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NYSED: “Make no mistake – Questar will be held accountable"

Posted at 6:36 PM, Apr 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-04 08:11:30-04

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WKBW) — There was no ELA computerized testing for third through eighth graders Wednesday. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) halted testing after technical glitches were reported state-wide Tuesday. It happened in the Niagara Falls city school district. Some students had delays as they tried to download their completed work.

“Some of my fellow classmates were getting kicked off,” declared Mariah Martin, 6th grader, Cataract Elementary School. “Sometimes it was - sometimes it wouldn't, but sometimes it's hard because when you're typing you can click the wrong button and then the whole screen would either go black or kick you off.”

“The most frustrating is that kids with all preparation down by their teachers and themselves got into a start and stop mode with their testing and it didn't flow because of the technology glitches,” said Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District

Laurrie said the Falls district spent $1.2 million to purchase new computers for students in 3rd through 8th for this year’s testing.

The state's vendor Questar even sent a representative to the district, but that didn't prevent the troubles.

"They made many of the fixes, but they still weren't able to overcome the humongous amount of traffic that happened on actually testing day,” stated Laurrie.

William Quinn is a network technician for Niagara Falls city schools. he watched as some students struggled with the computers.

“They were having issues with logging on with computers and into the Questar browser. There was definitely a sense of frustration from both the teachers and the students,” Quinn explained.

“It’s like the analogy of spring training for a baseball team and then the fields aren’t ready for opening day,” remarked Jeff Shower, principal, Cataract Elementary.

Principal Shower said his students were well-prepared for those tests.

“And it’s disheartening to see all their hard work and preparations, along with their teachers – that it goes into shutdown mode and you don’t want students to be disengaged and disenfranchised with the whole testing process.

NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia held a conference call Wednesday with reporters statewide.

“Make no mistake – Questar will be held accountable,” Elia stated. The department is reviewing its contract with Questar to determine action to hold Questar financially responsible for its failures to fulfill its contractual obligation - to deliver reliable and seamless computer-based testing.

NYSED said it was determined that the system ran out of free memory, ultimately causing the technical problems, including the inability for students to log in, inability to submit completed tests and users being kicked off.

NYSED brought in Questar’s parent company, ETS and Microsoft for independent review. They indicated corrective action should prevent problems.

Questar implemented corrective measures and accommodate high volume of users. Questar issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“We understand the frustration, and our team has been working around the clock to ensure New York schools can resume computer-based testing as soon as possible. We have consulted with respected outside firms and have wasted no time implementing their recommendations. As such, testing will resume Thursday. Of the 93,100 total students who started tests on Tuesday, 93 percent of, or 86,500, students who started testing sessions successfully completed and submitted their tests that day. Questar Assessment Inc. is committed to the students, teachers and school districts of New York State, and we take our responsibility to provide accurate and insightful testing results seriously," Chief Operating Officer, Brad Baumgartner

Elia said testing will resume for 5th and 8th graders Thursday and Friday for all schools conducting computer-based testing.

Commissioner Elia said “no student will be asked to retake” Tuesday’s ELA test.

Here is the full information on testing for statewide computer-based ELA testing from NYSED:

Testing Going Forward

All schools may resume computer-based testing tomorrow and continue testing Friday for grades 5 and 8. Schools that have already completed testing in grades 5 and 8 may test in one other grade tomorrow and Friday. Tomorrow, the Department will announce the testing plan for the week of April 8. The Department is working with Questar and the BOCES Regional Information Centers to get additional paper-based tests and scoring sheets to schools that request switching to paper-based tests.

Of the 93,100 total students that started tests on Tuesday, 93 percent of, or 86,500, students that started testing sessions successfully completed and submitted their tests that day. Questar and the Department are working with schools to process the completed but not yet submitted tests for the remaining students. No students will be asked to retake testing sessions.