School districts share frustrations after Utah’s standardized testing system malfunctions

Stock image | Photo by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — From issues with logins to data not recording properly, school districts in Southern Utah are wondering whether to trust testing data after a standardized testing system experienced glitches.

Students from both Washington County and Iron County school districts have been experiencing the frustrations of the testing service Questar Assessment Inc., which has given students unreliable test results, according to a report from The Associated Press. During the spring 2018-19 school year, students were required to take the RISE exam for the first time – a computer adaptive standards assessment for grades third through eighth.

The exam is meant to measure student growth and achievement, according to the Utah State Board of Education website.

Steve Dunham, communication and public relations director for Washington County School District, said the glitches didn’t impact every student, but it was significant enough to frustrate teachers and students. Steve Burton, director of elementary education for Iron County School District, said some schools were more impacted than others.

Due to the system not recording tests properly or screens freezing up, many students had to retake tests. Dunham and Burton were unable to provide specifics on how many students the glitches impacted because state officials expanded the testing window into June.

“You had to take the test on their platform, so we had to redo,” Dunham told St. George News, “and that is very frustrating, especially for the children.”

Among the frustrations for the districts was scheduling the tests because the testing system wouldn’t boot up on some days.

“When we have outages like that, it makes it difficult to schedule the testing for the students,” Burton said, adding that schools often lost one or two days of testing.

For Washington County, Dunham said a sad aspect of the situation is the district had the lowest opt-out rate during the school year than it’s had in previous years, meaning more students were willing to take the test.

“It could have been a strong data point for us, but now we can’t trust that,” Dunham said.

As of now, it’s unclear whether the districts will use the data toward reports on student achievement and grades; however, both Dunham and Burton agreed that the data isn’t completely reliable.

“You can still get data points from it, but when you have many students affected by the testing glitches, it really does become a problem,” Dunham said.

The state signed a contract with Questar last spring, and the state board is scheduled to review and possibly take action with the contract during a meeting Thursday in Salt Lake City.

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