Glitch causes malfunction in some online math tests

(AP) - A new online statewide math test was shut down this week, after the program malfunctioned for one-fourth of the 99 school districts using it.

The alternative state math test is given to 26,000 English-as-a-Second-Language students. Twenty-six districts reported that some students were unable to log on to the alternative math test, or couldn't finish it because their connection timed out too soon.

The test was provided by Iowa-based Pearson Educational Assessment, which has had previous problems, including the incorrect scoring of thousands of math tests.

Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Randy Wanke said Pearson sent out a repair to fix the problem.

"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate our schools. Students will not be harmed in this process at all."

The test results are used to rate schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual testing of students in grades 3 through 8, 10 and 11.

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said students won't be penalized.

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"We're going to do everything we can to accommodate our schools," Seagren said. "Students will not be harmed in this process at all."

The department gave school districts the option of putting a moratorium on testing Wednesday while repairs were made. The department also pushed the deadline for finishing testing back one week from May 4 to May 11.

The problem was noticed almost as soon as students began taking the Mathematics Test for English Language Learners - an alternative designed to make the test easier for English Language Learners to understand the questions.

The test uses everyday vocabulary, simple sentences, more visuals and has accompanying audio.

"We were experiencing problems from the get-go," said Kathryn O'Gorman, MTELL coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools, where 4,100 English Language Learners are being tested.

O'Gorman said students either weren't able to start the test, or got only halfway through it and were logged off the system. Some students were logged off several times, she said.

O'Gorman said schools are on tight schedules and putting the tests off strains teachers and students. Many schools continued testing Wednesday.

"This is a complication that adds headache to overworked teachers and staff," O'Gorman said.

Pearson spokesman David Hakensen said the problem is unique to this test in Minnesota.

The audio information needs more time than expected to download on school district servers, Hakensen said. It was originally programmed to take 30 seconds, but the company increased that to 600 seconds, Wanke said.

In 2002, Pearson incorrectly failed nearly 8,000 Minnesota students who took a test that was required for high school graduation. The company agreed to pay up to $7 million in damages for that problem.

In 2006 pencil smudges on scoring sheets provoked fears of inaccurate scoring.

Nationally, the company admitted to scoring errors on 4,000 SAT tests in 2006.

The company has a five-year contract with Minnesota that started in 2005.

Seagren said she has confidence in Pearson, and that all testing companies have had problems implementing new procedures.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)