State MCA testing suspended again as students experience more disruptions


The state has suspended Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCAs) testing for a second time in as many months after yet another disruption with the glitch-plagued online testing system. This has both the state Education Commissioner and lawmakers giving Pearson a failing grade.

School districts reported students experienced serious delays with the online testing system while taking the MCAs Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) said in a news release.

And on Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in an updated release Wednesday afternoon that MCA Science testing will be suspended on Thursday, as the department doesn't have confidence the system will work properly.

Pearson – the testing system the state pays for – experienced a "distributed denial of service attack," which means the testing system was intentionally disrupted by an outside source. The attack was similar to what happened last month, but this is being called a "larger and more sophisticated attack."

"It is simply unacceptable and unfair to subject students and teachers to this kind of uncertainty in a high-stakes testing environment," Cassellius said in the release.

"After the April 21 suspension, Pearson added additional security measures to prevent this type of disruption," she added. "Given the need to suspend testing today, I have questions about Pearson’s ability to follow through on their assurances."

Testing failures a big issue

Each year, students from third grade to high school take the MCAs in math, reading and science. The tests are used to help districts measure students' progress toward the state's academic standards.

About 400,000 students in the state had already completed the MCAs before last month's issues, with state officials saying those test results haven't been affected, KSTP notes.

It's unclear how many students have been affected by the disruption.

After Wednesday's testing failures, state Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, who is the chair of the Senate's education committee, called Wednesday's system failure "absolutely unacceptable," according to a news release, especially when just last year the state awarded Pearson $33 million for its testing services.

Wiger says the failure "simply underscores the continuing problem – and the need for our solution. We discussed this issue at length in our E-12 Conference Committee last week, and the Senate is firm in our commitment to solving this testing issue."

Wiger introduced provisions to the Senate's E-12 Finance Bill Wednesday to address the testing problems, the release notes.

The state has ditched a testing vendor in the past. In the spring of 2013, 15,000 students had issues taking the MCAs while it was being administered by American Institutes for Research (AIR) – the company did not seek to renew its contract.

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