New state standardized tests begin after rocky trial run

A Feb. 19 trial run of new state tests in LA Unified crashed the statewide online testing system

Tuesday marked the first day that schools statewide could begin administering new  standardized tests that, for the first time, will be given online.

As the exams began, Los Angeles school officials acknowledged that a trial run of the test in February was a disaster both at the local and state level. The major problems have been corrected, officials said.

The English and math exams are part of a nationwide move to computerized assessments. California also is among 43 states that have adopted common learning goals linked to the new tests.

A major problem occurred Feb. 19, when L.A. Unified asked all of its schools to sign on to the state testing system for a two-hour trial. The state system crashed, forcing L.A. Unified to halt the effort about 30 minutes in, said Cynthia Lim, head of data and accountability for the nation’s second-largest school system.

State officials told L.A. Unified that it has since made fixes that will allow high levels of online traffic, Lim said.

But L.A. Unified also was having online traffic jams. During the trial, Internet access slowed through the school system. Only about two-thirds of schools were able to log into the practice test. Nearly 80% of these schools reported frustratingly slow response times and other issues.

Problems occurred on all types of devices used, including iPads, Chromebooks and desktop computers, Lim said.

The online exams are a welcome improvement over paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice tests, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The new approach reflects "the exciting changes taking place in California classrooms,” Torlakson said in a statement. “Students are being tested on their ability to reason and think. They must draw logical conclusions and cite evidence from what they have read, and they must solve real-world math problems.”

He added: These tests will give parents, teachers and schools the feedback they need to help students succeed.”

Torlakson conceded that technical issues have complicated the roll out.

Board member Monica Ratliff said she heard from schools that the test seemed to work best on desktop computers in computer labs.

Since the troubled practice run, L.A. Unified has made changes in its programming and equipment. The first testing on Tuesday seemed to go smoothly for about 6,000 students at 94 schools, Lim said.

The state intends to use this year’s results as a baseline to compare with future years.

L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said it may be too soon to use the tests for anything but as an aid for teachers to plan lessons. He said students in L.A. and elsewhere need more practice using keyboards and computers before they and their teachers should be held accountable for the results.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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