Failing the Test

ExamBetween infrastructure, funding and legislation, the education system in Nevada has plenty of issues. Now, testing corporations and possibly the federal government are adding to the Silver State’s woes.

A series of computer glitches in recent weeks forced the state to postpone issuing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, a Common Core-aligned, federally mandated test in math and English language arts. Nevada students in grades 3-8 were all set to begin testing in late April, but the computer servers controlled by Measured Progress—the assessment company contracted by the state—were unable to handle the flood of students.

“Our students were ready, our teachers were ready, our tech was ready, the infrastructure was ready and the state was ready,” says Leslie Arnold, assistant superintendent of assessment, accountability, research and school improvement for the Clark County School District. “This was very disappointing.”

After several failed attempts, Arnold says some students were able to log on and begin taking the test, but “content glitches” such as skipped questions and missing texts or graphs kept many from being able to complete it.

While the technical difficulties shouldn’t affect Nevada’s federal education funding—an already-in-place “accountability pause” meant this year’s data was simply going to be a baseline—there is still a federally mandated level of student participation, which could become an issue. “We are trying to document that we are giving a good-faith effort,” Arnold says.

Dale Erquiaga, Nevada’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has asked both Measured Progress and Smarter Balanced Assessment to either fix the problem or devise a work-around—solutions that would have to be approved by both the state attorney general and Department of Education. If the problem isn’t resolved, the state may wind up taking the testing companies to court. And even if it is, it’s unknown if there would be enough time for all students to complete the exam before the school year ends.

“We were prepared for online assessment,” Arnold says. “It’s just sad we’re not going to get a chance to prove that.”