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Fulton teacher on Milestones computer meltdown: Declare scores invalid

So why do some teachers believe Georgia Milestones tests scores should not count this year in light of the widespread computer glitches?

(You can go here to see latest statement from Department of Education on what it plans to do about scores.)

In this piece, a Fulton County teacher details the stresses on students as a result of repeated technology failures during testing:

Where do I begin?

Before Spring Break, we had mandated training for the Georgia Milestones. As usual, we were bombarded with all the rules and structure and given a testing schedule for the school. Due to efforts to test the majority of students online, the schedule was complicated and a little confusing (two testing groups per grade level, testing every other day flip-flopping morning one day/afternoon the next), but every one dealt with it professionally. Questions about technology were asked and answered. Concerns about the internet were raised because there are times during the school year when access slows to a crawl or unreliable. We were told the new wiring that was recently installed and other upgrades downtown “should” handle the increased traffic...but...just in case, faculty and staff were directed to turn off Wi-Fi on our phones/devices, our classroom computers, and instruct students to turn off theirs.

My group was assigned one of the school's iPad carts for Milestones testing. During testing, all technology is dedicated to the task, so classes not engaged in testing have no access to technology as every lab, iPad cart, media center etc. are booked for Milestones, SLOs and End of Course basically from our return from Spring Break until the last week of school. So the iPad cart was all mine.  Fun times. Little did I know...?

Day 1. The kids' as well as my personal hell began. The iPads kept shooting error messages and not allowing kids to connect to the server before we even started ELA section 1. We lost 45 minutes just dealing with this false start. Once the class finally got going, I was running nonstop trying to keep up with all the kids going offline/server issues, recording how much time was lost, swapping out devices and continuing to notify administration. Easily one-third to one-half of my class was affected at different points in the session. The tech specialist was running ragged going between the other iPad rooms, calling downtown numerous times and doing everything in their power to fix things. Into the second ELA section, batteries start dying as the external keyboards draw so much juice.

By now I have the tech specialist and an assistant principal in the room trying to help me help the kids. How is this level of activity not distracting to those students who were actually online taking the test? By the time we finished that first day, my kids had missed their scheduled lunchtime, afternoon testers were stressing and relocated, I was nearly in tears, and the students were exhausted. My class was sent to eat, and my administration acknowledged I/we did the best we could under the circumstances and that it wasn't our fault. I'm told other schools went through the same thing.

Day 2-4:  Testing went slightly better for my kids. We were moved to a different location on Day 2 but still with the same iPad cart. Other teachers' room assignments or testing times changed, too. While there were fewer kids affected, it was by no means issue-free. Connectivity problems and short battery life were still constants, just not as widespread because there were fewer kids on iPads.

I'm not sure who decided to get my group some laptops and utilize the classroom computers, but that helped. Throughout this, I contacted my administration every time students received transmittal or other error messages. I'm pretty sure they were sick of hearing from me because I was definitely sick of reporting problems.

Day 5: Things were going reasonably smoothly until we were about to begin Section 2 of Social Studies. As I'm reading the scripted directions, hands go up and kids start shouting out that they're offline. We've just tested on Section 1 for about 70 minutes and now the Wi-Fi goes out? Even the kids can't believe we're having yet another issue. Basically, we're put in a holding pattern. An hour or so later the first queries about lunch begin. I ask an administrator but no answer is given. I get permission to charge iPads knowing if we do test, they'll be dead otherwise. More time goes by. I ask again for an update and about lunch. No idea. The clock keeps ticking away.

Everyone is so idea to play hangman and trivia games has grown old. I ask a fourth time about lunch and am told we're waiting for an answer from the testing office. I make the executive decision to let kids who have their lunch eat but ask them to please consider sharing with those who have to buy. I'm eventually told to collect materials (because we won't be able to take Section 2) and send everyone to the cafeteria. Two and a half hours of our lives gone that none of us will get back.

Day 6: We were moved to a computer lab (previously unavailable as other classes were testing) and other than it being too hot in there, we finish Social Studies Section 2 without one tech issue. At last.

In all of this, I have several take-aways:

My tech specialist and administration tried hard to be proactive, flexible and supportive but they, like everyone else, were set up to fail.

Test scores must be declared invalid. Though my kids didn't seem to lose any work completed, no one could sustain concentration. All the swapping out of equipment alone is an issue, but what about starting and restarting questions and then trying to formulate answers? It's ridiculous. Kids' promotion, retention, and possible summer school attendance (as well as class placements) should not be based on these results.

I don't want 50 percent (or 30%, if the law passes) of my evaluation to come from test results -- even if the kids had ideal testing conditions -- but after this? It is completely wrong. Truly unethical.

Please note: These were the issues I dealt with. I didn't even write about the issues other grade levels or teachers within my grade level had. There were plenty of stories like mine within my building, and I know it was not just at my school.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.