FCAT Testing Resumes in Wake of "Network Outaqe"

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By Julie Montanaro
April 23, 2014

F-CAT testing has resumed in Florida schools after a computer glitch forced some schools to halt testing Tuesday.

The Department of Education says all 26 districts that reported trouble are back on line today - including Leon, Gadsden and Wakulla.

7th graders at Cobb Middle School were busy Tuesday taking the reading portion of the F-CAT, but like students in more than two dozen districts across the state, they were met with hourglasses and spinning circles.

"Once my students finished their tests yesterday and they got ready to submit, they got an error message," Cobb Middle School Principal Tonja Fitzgerald said.

Florida's Education Secretary called the glitch "unacceptable." The state has a $254 million dollar contract with Pearson Education to administer the on line tests.

A statement on Pearson's web site blamed the "intermittent disruptions" on a network outage at CenturyLink. It says it has already created an alternate internet path with a separate internet provider to try to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"There is the potential for fines, there is the potential for the recoupment of costs if the delay cost some districts money," Florida Department of Education Spokesman Joe Follick said. "Our focus right now was let's fix the problem and make sure that students and teachers can get back to business."

Some students were interrupted in the middle of their testing sessions and were not able to finish them. Others were able to finish but couldn't send the completed components to Pearson. That's what happened here at Cobb.

"We saved it and then we waited a little while," Cobb Principal Tonja Fitzgerald said. "We tried to resubmit and we were able to resubmit it."

The Department of Education the FCAT on line testing is now back up and running across the state. Local school districts will now have to adjust their schedules to make sure they finish in the two week testing window.

"Many of our schools have already begun that process today," Leon County Schools Spokesman Chris Petley said. "The students will jump back online and submit the rest of their questions. Others will be filtered in throughout the testing process next week. So, by the end of next week all of the students should have completed their F-CAT reading tests," Petley said.

Pearson's President apologized for the disruptions and problems the outage may have caused.

Both Pearson and DOE say their I-T folks worked overnight to fix the problem.

Wakulla County's Superintendent says about 30% of its students in grades 5 through 10 were impacted - but followed DOE protocols to save data and were able to resume the tests today.

A Gadsden County Schools spokeswoman says students there were not interrupted, but there was a delay in sending the data to Pearson when they finished.

News Release: Florida Department of Education
April 23, 2014

Commissioner Pam Stewart informs Florida's Superintendents on updates with the FCAT server issues. See the email below:

Good Morning Superintendents,

The department has been working with Pearson throughout the night and this morning on the issues that affected online testing in Florida yesterday. Pearson has put into place a mitigation strategy that includes redundancy in access to its production servers. While the original issue that caused interruptions in service through CenturyLink has been corrected and verified as of early this morning, Pearson has engaged the services of another provider to minimize the risk of further interruptions to testing today. This solution has also been tested and verified overnight. Pearson has assured the department that this strategy will resolve the issues related to yesterday’s interruptions and the system will resume normal functionality.

News Release: StudentsFirst
April 23, 2014

StudentsFirst Florida spokesperson, Lane Wright, made the following statement regarding technical glitches affecting the FCAT:

“We don't stop driving after we hit a few bumps in the road and we shouldn't stop driving towards a better education system because of testing glitches in the FCAT's 15th year.

“If we did, who’s to say we’d be 100 percent problem-free in the 16th year, or the 20th? Fact is, if we waited to do everything until we knew we could do it perfectly, we’d never get anything done at all.

“We strongly urge Florida’s education leaders to stand strong in advancing the cause of a great education system and making sure our children are always the top priority.”

Updated by: Natalie Rubino
April 22, 2014 11pm

Today's FCAT server malfunction is causing local education leaders to raise more questions about the controversial test.

Seventh and tenth graders were scheduled to take an online portion of the FCAT today but their testing was cut short.

Students in 26 districts across Florida either couldn't log in to take the test, were kicked off the site or weren't able to submit their answers.

The distributer of the test, Pearson, says it was a national internet server issue that caused the problems.

Tonight at the Leon County School Board meeting many leaders voiced their concerns.

"It's very high stakes for our students. It's very high stakes for our teachers. When we have processes that are disrupted and effects the standardized environment in which students test, certainly it causes red flags to be raised and for us to have conversation at the leadership and state level about what next steps we can take," Gillian Gregory, Director of Testing and Research for Leon County Schools said.

Pearson says they believe the issue is fixed and testing could resume tomorrow.

This is the last year of the FCAT.

Next year's assessment will come from the American Institute of Research.

Officials said that because of what happened today they will be more cautious about the implementation of the test next year.

News Release: FLDOE

Below is an update on today's testing delays according to Joe Follick, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Florida Department of Education:

“As of 5 p.m., 26 districts in Florida reported some disruption to FCAT testing today. The level of disruption varied among those districts.

“In a conversation with Commissioner Stewart this afternoon, Pearson officials said the underlying problem was a national issue with Internet service. Pearson said they were confident that testing could continue tomorrow as they pursued contingency plans.

“We are discussing options for districts who may need additional testing times. Commissioner Stewart held a conference call with Superintendents this afternoon to update them and we have been in constant contact with districts and Pearson.”

By: Lanetra Bennett
April 22, 2014

Tallahassee, FL - Seventh and tenth graders were scheduled to take FCAT Reading this week. However, Tuesday, many students throughout Florida were not able to test because the online system was down.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says, "This failure is inexcusable."

In a letter to the president of the testing company, Stewart also wrote, "The language posted on Pearson's status website acknowledges this degradation in service, but also minimizes its impact as merely 'frustrating,' while students and educators have experienced real issues for which we have yet to receive a solution."

Stewart instructed districts to suspend live testing of FCAT once administrators discovered the system was down.

The Florida Department of Education says several districts reported issues.

Chris Petley, the Leon County Schools Spokesman, says, "A couple of years ago when they moved to the online FCAT testing, we tried to come up with a contingency plan, such as power outages or weather, all sorts of issues. So, we were a little bit prepared. It didn't catch us completely off guard."

Petley says administrators will make the decision on how to move forward.

Commissioner Stewart's letter to the testing company also says, "Florida's students and teachers work too hard on learning to be distracted by needless and avoidable technological issues."

You can read her letter in its entirey by clicking on the attachment included.

Memo Sent to School Districts in Florida

Good morning,

As some of you already know, Pearson is experiencing difficulty with a hosting provider this morning, which is causing issues with testing (both TestNav and TestHear) and accessing the PearsonAccess website for test management. The issue does not seem to be statewide, but several districts have reported issues.

If your district is experiencing difficulty with live testing, please suspend testing and wait to hear from our office. We do not currently have an estimated timeline from Pearson for when this issue will be resolved, but we will be in touch with updates/resolutions throughout the day. If your district is not experiencing issues, you may continue testing as scheduled as your district is likely not routing through the affected server.

Some of you have inquired about schedule extensions due to this issue. Once the problem is resolved, if you have schools that will need more time to complete testing beyond your district’s schedule, please let us know (in writing) and we will work with you to ensure that all students in your district have sufficient opportunity to test.

Thank you for your patience.

Victoria Ash
Chief, Bureau of K-12 Student Assessment
Accountability, Research, and Measurement
Florida Department of Education

By: Eyewitness News
April 22, 2014 - 11:15am

Tallahassee, FL - FCAT testing has come to a halt in some counties because of problems with the testing system.

Both Leon and Gadsden Counties are reporting issues.

The problems stem from issues with the hosting provider, Pearson.

Other school districts across the state are reporting problems accessing the company's website for test management.

The Department of Education told school officials to suspend testing if they are having issues.

We'll have more on this story as it becomes available.

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