- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida school districts across the state were forced Monday to halt the latest round of state standardized testing amid renewed problems with the online system used to administer the test.

The vendor hired by the state to carry out Florida’s new high-stakes test blamed the technical issues on “human error” and apologized. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said that the company, American Institutes for Research, had made unapproved changes to the testing system over the weekend.

The problem prevented students from being able to log into the system that administers the test.

“The problem stemmed from human error, and AIR is reviewing its procedures in order to prevent future events of this kind,” said company spokesman Larry McQuillan. “AIR takes full responsibility for this issue and apologizes for the disruptions created this morning.”

Stewart told school superintendents on a conference call that the actions by AIR were “unacceptable” and that the state would hold the company “accountable” although she did not specify what the state would do. Florida had signed a six-year, $220 million contract with the company to draw up a new standardized test that is being used in elementary, middle and high school.

Both Stewart and a company representative said that the problem had been fixed by late Monday morning. But that didn’t satisfy some superintendents. Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho cancelled testing for the day, saying in a Facebook message that the district chose “learning over unacceptable testing conditions.”

The latest mishap with the test - known as the Florida Standards Assessment- prompted a renewal by testing critics to call on Florida to halt the use of the tests this year. The initial rollout in March was marred by technical glitches and reports of an alleged cyber-attack.

“Florida officials must suspend the 2015 high-stakes testing mandate,” said Bob Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “Results from exams that have repeatedly been interrupted are not reliable, valid or even ‘standardized.”

This is the first year that Florida is using the Florida Standards Assessment, which is based primarily on Common Core standards. It replaced the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which has been used to evaluate schools and determine whether students should be promoted from third grade and graduate from high school.

Gov. Rick Scott last week signed into law a measure that scales back the amount of testing authorized in Florida. The new law would delay the release of this year’s school grades until an independent review of the new test can be performed. Other sanctions associated with annual testing would also be put on hold while the review is underway.

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fineout

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