Teacher 'test' is testing patience
Online training program criticized Teacher 'test' is testing patience BY BRIAN WALLACE, Staff Writer
A state official has apologized for problems with a new online training program that all public school staff members must complete before they can administer PSSA tests and Keystone Exams this year.
The program, implemented in response to concerns about test security, has been beset with technical glitches and confusing directions for teachers and administrators, who mistakenly thought they had to pass their own exam before they could administer the standardized tests.
Schools began giving writing PSSAs this week; math, reading and science testing will begin in April.
Warwick School District staff members "were consistently and repeatedly bumped off" the testing site because of the technical problems, said Warwick Superintendent April Hershey.
She also complained about the "unrealistic time frame" given to meet the new requirement, pointing out that all staff members had only four weeks to get trained before the start of PSSA testing.
The training was expected to take about 45 minutes, but often took much longer because of the problems, teachers and administrators said.
"The system is often overloaded and at times shuts down in the middle of the course, causing staff members to start over at the beginning," Jennifer Reinhart, chief accountability officer for School District of Lancaster, said in an email.
Other local school officials complained that the format of the training, which includes a graded test at the end of the session, was confusing.
The complaints prompted Deputy Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq to send an email to all school districts in the state Monday apologizing for the problems.
The contractor that developed the system, JPL Integrated Communications, "has been unable to fulfill its obligation to support the number of users called for in the contract," making the system "slow and subject to crashing," Dumaresq said in the email.
"We are actively working with the contractor to correct this problem."
Dumaresq also clarified that teachers and administrators do not have to pass the test at the end of the training to be certified to administer standardized tests.
The program requires everyone to take the test, however. Those who get 80 percent of answers correct earn a "passing score." A red "X" pops up on the screen for those who score less than 80 percent, and a message informs them that they "did not pass the final test."
Many teachers and administrators thought that meant they had to take the training all over again, repeating the entire 45-minute content and retaking the test. They do not.
"Please note that the training is not intended to 'qualify' individuals to administer the assessments," Dumaresq said in her email. "In the future, trainees will not be given the message that they've passed or failed; there is no failing as, again, this is not a qualifying test."
The training urges educators to be "super vigilant" in maintaining test security.
It advises them to avoid looking at student answers or providing pupils with any assistance during the test. It also warns test administrators not to "reveal, copy, review or discuss" any test materials or leave them unattended.
The training was mandated this year in response to an investigation by the state Department of Education that found patterns of unusually high erasures and other irregularities on PSSA test results at 48 school districts and charter schools across the state, including School District of Lancaster.
PSSA and Keystone test results are used to determine whether schools make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind.
The department filed complaints against more than 140 educators in the wake of the investigation, said Tim Eller, Education Department spokesman. He did not know how many cases resulted in reprimands or other personnel action because that would be handled on a local level, Eller said.
Two SDL schools came under scrutiny for possible tampering of PSSA results from 2009 to 2011, but the state closed its probe without announcing if it found any wrongdoing.
Neither the state nor the school district would say if any employees were reprimanded, and they would not name the schools that were implicated.
nThe program, implemented in response to concerns about test security, has been beset with technical glitches and confusing directions for teachers and administrators, who mistakenly thought they had to pass their own exam before they could administer standardized tests.