Education
3:38 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Kansas Schools Won't Get Report Cards After Hackers Stymie Tests

Most students in Kansas now take their standardized tests on computers. Marianne Perie with KU's Center for Education Testing and Evaluation says even paper and pencil tests aren't foolproof: This year, a box of tests fell off a truck and was destroyed.
Most students in Kansas now take their standardized tests on computers. Marianne Perie with KU's Center for Education Testing and Evaluation says even paper and pencil tests aren't foolproof: This year, a box of tests fell off a truck and was destroyed.
Credit biologycorner / Flickr--CC

The Kansas State Board of Education agreed Tuesday to throw out data from this year's math and reading exams after hackers disrupted the spring standardized tests.

The decision means the state won't be issuing school report cards this fall.

"We just didn't have faith that the data were going to give an accurate picture of where the students in Kansas are in relation to the new cognitive standards," says Mariane Perie, director of the Center for Education Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas. 

The center designed the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine, called KITE, which was new this year. The exam aligns with new, nationally crafted academic standards known as the Common Core that are now in use in more than 40 states. 

Perie says there were problems with the exam from the beginning – students were supposed to take a transitional exam to bridge the gap between Kansas' old, outdated assessment and a new, national test the state had agreed to use. But when the state board decided late last year to forgo the national test, they had to launch the exam early.

The center was able to fix most problems quickly. But unlike Kansas' old testing platform, which required schools to download the tests to local computers, the new exam is Web-based.

There are advantages to an Internet testing platform, says Perie. It's easier to update and provide support. But it's also vulnerable to attack.

"We had two good days of testing, and we got hit by something called a 'distributive denial of service' – a DDOS," says Perie. "That's an outside force, a person, a program that starts throwing as much data as possible at our servers with the goal of shutting them down."

And the center's servers were attacked twice. Between the early glitches and the online attacks, Perie says about a month's worth of testing data had to be thrown out.

"We had hoped to be able to report back to schools and students individual scores," says Kansas Department of Education spokeswoman Denise Kahler. 

Schools still will get feedback on which questions students struggled with — valuable information as the state begins testing its new standards.

For example, Kansas students did equally well analyzing fiction and nonfiction passages, something they used to struggle with. But the state's 11th graders still had trouble answering questions about poetry, something classroom teachers will have to emphasize more in the coming school year.

Kahler says even if the test had gone off without a hitch, the state wouldn't have made any accreditation decisions based on this year's stores. The Common Core standards are considered more rigorous than the state's old expectations for students, and states that already have started testing saw scores dip the first year. 

She says the state will have to ask the U.S. Department of Education for flexibility in reporting this year's scores.

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