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Testing technology

Standardized test scores in Arkansas are usually below the national average. Could technology trouble lower those scores even further? (MGN Online photo)

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) -

For the first time this year every 3rd through 10th grade student in Arkansas who took standardized tests used a keyboard rather than #2 pencil.

Was the technology in our schools was up to the challenge?

We asked both the Little Rock school district and State Department of Education for all problems, complaints or concerns related to technology and testing.

Several inches of documents were returned.

But it is not as bad as it sounds.

Prior to giving students statewide the new ACT-Aspire standardized test for the first time, the state's Director of Assessment had some concerns.

"With any new assessment program you have concerns," recalls Hope Allen. "So I had concerns going into PARCC last year when we went to online testing. This year my concerns were more just making sure that the experience was better for our students and our schools."

One month before the start of testing the Little Rock school district conducted an infrastructure trail.

At Parkview High School the concern was "Speed, speed, speed."

The report from Mann Middle School..."All computers are slow."

At Cloverdale Middle School..."...computers were freezing."

At Dunbar...students were "...getting kicked off."

The review found that all LRSD schools experienced some latency, or slow computer, issues but that eight "...had major problems."

On April 11th, the first day of testing did not go well for Cotinna Johnson's 6th grade daughter.

"She said my mouse wouldn't work," recalls Johnson, of Sherwood. "The keys wouldn't work on the computer. And I didn't finish my test. And she was very worried about the outcome of her test."

And problems on the first day weren't confined to Little Rock.

On the third day of testing Allen emailed all district testing coordinators: "We have gotten reports from across the state of students' writing responses disappearing partway through the Aspire writing test."

"Yes there were technological issues that happened at districts," says Allen. "Most of them were resolved quickly."

Stress levels may have been highest at Forest Park Elementary in Little Rock, where slow computers were "...having an adverse effect" on students. "You can see the frustration on their faces..." "Our students' scores should not be at the mercy of whether or not the technology works..."

Assistant principal Ron Highfill at Rogers High School puts it this way: "As we transition from paper tests to computer tests, the strain on our computer infrastructure is immense."

But by the third day of testing things were going smoothly at Forest Park Elementary and most other schools.

About 285,000 students statewide each took five standardized tests...math, science, english, reading and writing.

That's around 1.5 million tests in a five week period.

"If I had 1,000 students who had technology issues that is an average of one per school," explains Allen. "And so in many cases that is less than about five per district. So it is not enough to make an impact on a district's scores."

Arkansas' overall test scores dropped in 2015 and there is a real likelihood that will happen again.

Anticipating that, lawmakers have enacted a one year moratorium on placing new schools or districts on academic distress.

Test results will be back for review in July and made public sometime after that.

Air date: May 30th, 2016

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