- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

RICHMOND — The state Department of Education said yesterday that it is reviewing glitches that plagued its online standardized testing system last month, and the head of the company that administers the tests vowed to improve its performance in time for the new school year.

Technical problems on three dates disrupted online Standards of Learning testing for 9,551 students in 69 of Virginia’s 133 school systems, including Fairfax County. Those students were given the chance to take the exams again, and the retesting costs will be covered by Pearson Educational Measurement, said Billy K. Cannaday Jr., state superintendent of public instruction.

Mr. Cannaday met yesterday with Douglas Kubach, Pearson’s chief executive officer, and other company officials to discuss the testing system crashes, Pearson’s response, and how to prevent future occurrences.

“We’re really committed to improving our performance in this state and to do a better job,” Mr. Kubach said in a conference call after the meeting.

Pearson agreed to improve its technology, enhance real-time test monitoring and upgrade its call center’s capacity in time for the 2007-08 academic year. Mr. Kubach said he wouldn’t have an estimated cost the company will have to absorb until the Department of Education completes its review.

Online outages on May 10, 15 and 17 stemmed from problems with the connections between the software applications and the information databases and trouble with a Pearson server — not the number of students being tested — said Mr. Kubach, whose company won the six-year, $140 million contract to administer the statewide online SOL tests in 2005.

The first disruption affected 2,382 students in 26 school systems; the second, 6,962 students in 55 systems; and the third, 207 students in eight divisions, according to Department of Education figures. Some school systems experienced more than one disruption and all affected students got the chance to retake the test online or on paper, Mr. Cannaday said.

Officials in Fairfax County, the state’s largest school division, were among those who complained to the Department of Education about Pearson’s lack of responsiveness to the online crashes.

About 1.5 million SOL tests were administered online this school year, compared with about 10,000 in 2001-02 when online SOLs were introduced. The number of students taking online SOLs likely will increase as more elementary schools move in that direction, state education officials said.

Pearson handles online standardized testing in about a dozen other states, and has seen similar glitches, but Virginia’s contract has the most students, Mr. Kubach said.

Server problems crashed online testing in Minnesota in April, but Pearson officials have said that no student tests were affected.

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