May 13, 2013

Testing glitch: ACT online tests crash, students will not be penalized on end-of-year grades

By Carrie Dillard
Managing Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Laurel County students have been in testing, but it hasn’t been an easy road for some last week.

Tharon Hurley, director of assessment and accountability, said the district has had numerous instances where students were booted from end-of-the-year, online tests because of a “electronic glitch.”

“Tests have crashed right in the middle of them,” he said.  “It’s aggravating for the students and for the teacher.  Students prepare all year long for these tests; they study and they’re ready, and then it crashes.”

The online testing is administered by ACT.  Last year, approximately 40 percent of school districts participated in the online testing program. This year, that number has increased to nearly 70 percent, and officials believe the increased volume on the site has led to the number of crashes.

Typically, these tests would count as 10 percent of the student’s final grade, however, neither the state nor the district wants to punish the student for this technical difficultly that is beyond their control.  The Kentucky Department of Education  (KDE) recommended districts cancel all computer testing and administer pencil tests instead.  However, because the school year will end next week, KDE has allowed Laurel County to be one of the few districts to continue computerized testing.  With fewer participating districts, they hope to eliminate the problem.

Hurley said students scheduled for online testing this week will continue, and the district is working to assure those students who were unable to complete their tests last week because of the glitch are able to resume their work.  The online tests, however, will not be calculated into the students’ final grade.

In other matters:

• The board approved bids for pictures, yearbook, gym flooring, banking and audit services.

School pictures were awarded to Forever Memories; yearbook to Josten’s; gym flooring to Hedrick Hardwood; and audit services to Cloyd & Associates. Although they appealed to eight different banking agencies, the board received only one bid.  The winning bidder, First National Bank, will offer .1 percent interest on checking, a decrease from .2 percent.  

Jim Kennedy, finance director, estimates the district will earn approximately $20,000 in interest this year.

Kennedy said the public doesn’t always consider the other financial issues the district must face besides decreased state funding.  “Since 2007-08, we’ve seen a  $720,000 revenue cut in interest alone,” he said. “That could equate to 14 teacher jobs.  We can’t generate the revenue we used to.”

• The North Laurel Middle School addition/renovation is moving along as expected.  David Jackson with construction managers, Hacker Brothers Inc., stated he saw no reason why school would be delayed by construction come the start of the next school year in August.  Architect Kevin Cheek of Sherman-Carter-Barnhart praised the work of the crew, especially the project’s mason who has an excellent eye for details, he said.

The board approved all change orders for the project.  The district is required by KDE to maintain a five percent contingency fund for unforeseen expenses, however, Cheek stated he intends to keep all change orders below one percent, and “return as much contingency back to you as we can for other projects.”

Among the upgrades to NLMS will be a new security keypad for entry doors.  The technology will be the newest in the district, allowing the school to issue cards or key fobs to each authorized staff member entering into the building.  

The district is looking into equipping other schools with this technology in the future, however, it is not a cheap upgrade.  

“It is a significant change,” Kennedy said.  “For London, for example, it would cost $30,000.”

They will salvage parts from the previous security door system at NLMS to service others throughout the district until such time all systems can be upgraded.

• The board has rejected recent insurance bids, procured by Kentucky Educational Development Corporation (KEDC).  It was the intention of KEDC to help school districts join together to get a lower insurance rate as a group.

“Bids we have received are a 60 percent increase over our current premiums,” Superintendent Doug Bennett said. The board has agreed to enter into competitive negotiations with local providers.  

Attorney Larry Bryson said KEDC is a good organization that provides the district with invaluable resources, such as training, and they will continue to be a part of the educational cooperative.

The May 13 and May 27 regular school board meetings have been canceled.