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Pencils, down

WORTHINGTON -- Students were in the middle of a statewide test Tuesday when the online servers began to slow, leaving many students throughout Minnesota unable to continue their exam.

"The state system didn't work, and we didn't get to complete our state testing," District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said Wednesday morning. "The information that I got from the company that's contracted, it seems like one of their servers went down. Here the kids are in the middle of their test, and supposedly they didn't lose the work they'd done and they've completed. That's a big piece for us."

The students were taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment online, but the slowing servers interrupted the test.

The Department of Education uses American Institutes for Research (AIR) as the testing vendor.

"Things are back to normal (Wednesday)," said AIR Director of Public Affairs Larry McQuillan. "(Tuesday) our servers experienced a slowdown that affected performance for some students in the state. At the time of the slowdown, 15,000 students were testing, and some of them experienced a problem. Our engineers isolated the cause and corrected it."

Landgaard wasn't sure what the problem was, but knew it was affecting any Minnesota student taking the test online.

"It's hard to say if they had a server that went bad all of a sudden, but it kicked our kids out," he said. "It was a statewide problem."

According to McQuillan, "I do know the servers did not fail or go down. They experienced two brief slowdowns during a one-hour period that caused some students to have to wait longer than usual."

On Wednesday morning, District 518 was experiencing its own server issues.

"We're supposed to be testing (Wednesday), but we have power issues, and we're struggling to keep our system up," Landgaard said. "The email is back working, but it wasn't a while ago."

The students in District 518 were testing in math at about 9 a.m. Tuesday morning when the statewide issue occurred.

"That was right in the middle of their test," Landgaard said. "It was probably about 9 or 9:15. They just quit for the day. They are supposed to start again (Wednesday) and go back in and start where they left off. There is an opportunity to go back and look at some of it. It's going to create a nightmare and create a problem for the validity of the test, in my view.

"I think there is a whole testing validity problem now because they didn't do their part," he added. "I realize it isn't always in their control."

Landgaard believes students didn't lose the work they had completed, but weren't able to take the test the way it was intended.

"Part of my issue with this is, is this truly going to be valid to actually say we're a focus school or we're meeting needs or we aren't," Landgaard said. "Is it a true indication based on what's there for student's knowledge? I question that, anyway."

Not every school was affected -- only those that used the computer testing.

"We were doing paper and pencil test, so we were not impacted, fortunately," Adrian Superintendent Roger Graff said. "That was a statewide issue."

The tests are used for state purposes and to determine how Worthington is doing as a school district.

"This is how our district gets judged at a state level, which I have an issue with, anyway," Landgaard said. "It's not a true indication with how well we do with students. It's a moment in time to see if we're at the level the state believes we should be at. These test results are what they judge whether we are priority or focus school."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.