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State receives $4.5M for Milestones testing errors

FORSYTH COUNTY — The company that provides standardized testing to Georgia has agreed to pay $4.5 million in services as a result of content errors and disruptions during 2015 Georgia Milestones testing.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced CTB/McGraw-Hill will include safeguards to ensure future administrations of the test take place with no similar issues.

This spring was the first installment of the Georgia Milestones end-of-grade tests, which replaced the End of Course Test previously required in certain grades.

Many schools tested students online in preparation for complete online administration being required in five years, and “some of those schools experienced periodic connection issues.”

These issues were attributed, in many cases, to the “lengthy delay in the test administration system’s ability the sync student information across databases,” according to the state Department of Education.

Jennifer Caracciolo, Forsyth County Schools’ spokeswoman, said students in Forsyth encountered “small, isolated” technical difficulties, such as slow-loading pages and being forced to re-login.

However, she said, no one in the district was unable to test.

Statewide, students encountered instances of the test “freezing” or taking prolonged periods of time to load the next question. This issue became more prevalent on April 21 and 22, as more schools across Georgia began to test.

Many students who were granted an accommodation of using a screen reader to read test questions experienced more delays and interruptions than other students, due to an “insufficient number of testing vendor servers to handle the number of screen readers used.”

On April 21 and 22, the state suspended testing for the impacted students while CTB/McGraw-Hill worked to identify the cause and remediate the problem.

“The interruptions were sporadic and scattered across the state, affecting a relatively small number of students,” the state said. “At no time was Georgia required to suspend all testing, as was the case in other states this spring.”

Funding to the education department — at no cost to the state or taxpayers — includes $2.64 million to create and implement end-of-course assessments serving the new traditional/discrete math course options.

The State Board of Education voted earlier this year to allow school systems to offer either integrated or traditional/discrete math high school courses.

CTB/McGraw-Hill will also provide up to $120,000 for an in-state program manager to serve as a point of contact for Georgia for one year, helping to coordinate, organize and prioritize tasks requiring state review and input.

Up to $60,000 will be allocated for an independent analysis of the problems that took place in 2015-2016, the state said, while more than $1.6 million will be provided in additional services.

“Holding CTB/McGraw-Hill accountable for these issues was nonnegotiable for us,” Woods said. “The problems were not widespread, but for the students who were affected, that does not matter. It was essential that we ensure this never happens again.

“The vendor has worked with us to make sure those safeguards are in place, and to ensure Georgia is compensated for the services that were not rendered effectively. Fortunately, in this circumstance, that means we’re able to eliminate some expenses for the taxpayer.”

As part of Woods’ larger focus on testing, he has also started the planning process of working with nonprofits to conduct an audit of state and local testing.