A computer glitch temporarily halted FCAT testing for hundreds of Miami-Dade students this week in a reminder of the potential downside to replacing No. 2 pencils and Scantrons with computer-based exams.
According to schools officials, about 1,200 students in sixth and ninth grades were interrupted Wednesday while taking the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The problem — a relative hiccup in a district of 350,000 — occurred after Microsoft on Tuesday released an anti-malware update that, according to a company spokesperson, impeded service for some users.
District spokesman John Schuster said the update slowed down school system computers using Windows XP, causing problems for students taking the test. But Microsoft fixed the problem that day, he said.
The length of the delay, its exact timing and the schools affected isn’t yet known, said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Most students were able to resume and finish testing, and “just a few” had to take the test the following day, he said.
But Carvalho said the problem was one of several small setbacks this week, including an AT&T power outage in North Dade and some struggles with testing software for students with hearing impairments.
“This is not a DEFCON 4 situation, and it’s very, very small, but I think it may actually be helpful in raising the issue with the state and starting a conversation,” Carvalho said. “What happens when there’s a breakdown?”
The problem caused by the Microsoft update may have been isolated to just those 1,200 students. Broward schools don’t begin FCAT testing until next week. And Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Education, said none of the state’s other 66 school districts reported a problem. A spokeswoman with Pearson, the state contractor for standardized testing, declined to answer questions.
Etters said the state has policies in place to handle such scenarios, and students aren’t docked for lost time.
Glitches have caused problems with the FCAT in the past. The Tampa Tribune reported last year that the district was puzzled when small groups of students were kicked off of reading exam software. The previous year, some students in St. Johns County couldn’t log in to their tests.
“That’s not to say computer-based testing isn’t a good thing,” Etters said.
A new test is expected to replace the FCAT next year and will be given both on paper and online.