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Hawkins schools among many affected by TN Ready cyberattacks

Jeff Bobo • Apr 17, 2018 at 7:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — There’s a lot riding on the TN Ready state testing in public schools, which began Monday amid statewide reports of computer glitches reportedly caused by a cyberattack on the testing vendor's data center.

Like many schools systems across the state, Hawkins County schools experienced problems with online testing Monday and Tuesday — first in getting high school students logged into the test, and then in getting the completed tests submitted.

State education officials said on Twitter that Tuesday’s issues may have been attributable to a cyberattack.

Hawkins County schools are testing high school students online but opted to use paper and pencil testing for grades 3-8.

Computer glitches affected testing in Hawkins County schools

Schools across the state have three weeks to complete end of course (EOC) exams for all students in grades 9-11 in nine categories including English 9, 10 and 11, which began Monday with the writing components, as well as algebra I, algebra II, geometry, biology, chemistry and U.S. history.

Director of Schools Steve Starnes told the Times News on Tuesday that Hawkins County high schools couldn't get about 120 students logged on to the writing test Monday morning. The rest of the students were able to get logged on but had a delay of 2-3 hours before they were able to submit their work.

"The way the testing platform works, the answers are tracked within the software on the computer itself, and then once a student finishes they have to submit, and it uploads that data (to the vendor’s data center) at that time," Starnes said. "When we can't submit, it keeps us from continuing testing because we cannot allow another student on that computer until the first student's test submits, so we have to quarantine computers. The students who were able get logged in Monday were able to get their tests submitted, but sometimes it was taking 2-3 hours to submit."

Starnes added, "(Tuesday) we couldn't get the test to submit. So they suspended testing and had to label computers to keep up with which students were working on which computers. Later in the day they received a message from the state that the system was back up, so those students returned to their computers to resume testing."

Starnes said that after the initial hiccup Tuesday, when testing restarted there were no further problems.

Why is state testing so important?

Starnes is concerned about the impact these computer glitches are going to have on the results, especially if problems persist.

"We're testing on a writing portion of the test right now, so as the students are writing and doing their test, if you get frustrated trying to log in and you have difficulties getting logged in, I think that impacts your ability to write your best," Starnes said. "We're also concerned that if a student encountered problems Monday and then had problems again today, how serious are they going to take the test moving forward."

Starnes added, "You want it to go as smooth as possible and for conditions to be optimal because there's a lot riding on these tests. It can end up counting as part of a student's final grade. It ends up being used to determine the performance of teachers, and new this coming year, schools will be assigned an A-F grade. It calls all that into question when it doesn't work like it's supposed to."

What happens now?

Testing will resume as scheduled Wednesday.

If problems persist, however, Starnes believes the state will have to evaluate this system closely and determine if testing this year is an accurate evaluation, or if they're headed for another suspension of testing such as what occurred at the end of the 2015-16 school year for grades 3-8 when assessment tests were canceled due to a massive testing platform failure.

"I know there is a lot of widespread discontent statewide with the testing process," Starnes said.

The state Department of Education stated there's no evidence that student data or information has been compromised.

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