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Indiana ISTEP tests to resume at half the test load

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Required standardized tests for Indiana students will resume Wednesday after two days of computer glitches, but state officials asked schools to cut their normal test loads by half to avoid more problems.

The Indiana Department of Education issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the decision to resume the ISTEP+ exams was "based upon assurances made by CTB McGraw Hill," the state's test vendor.

"In order to prevent further issues, the DOE is asking schools to decrease their daily test load to 50 percent of their normal levels until further notice. The DOE will work with local schools to ensure that they have the time they need to fairly administer the test," the statement says.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz ordered testing halted earlier Tuesday after schools in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Carmel, Lafayette and other areas reported issues accessing the online portion of the exams. The directive came a day after 27,000 students struggled to connect and complete the test.

Ritz called the problems "unacceptable."

"All of our students deserve to take a test that is valid, accurate and reliable," she said in a statement.

The glitches sparked concerns about the impact on students and teachers.

The Indiana State Teachers Association issued a statement Tuesday saying it wanted proof from Indiana officials that problems with the exam won't hurt teachers. The union noted that recent changes in state law have tied ISTEP+ results to school ratings, individual teacher evaluations and teachers' compensation.

Rocky Killion, superintendent of West Lafayette Community Schools, said the problems cast doubt on the validity of the test results.

"We will not get an accurate picture of how well students are doing," he told the Journal & Courier.

This is the third straight year that students in grades three through eight taking the online portion of the exam have encountered problems, The Indianapolis Star reported.

CBT/McGraw-Hill had initially reported all testing systems were running fine Tuesday. But it changed its status as students began logging in and connection problems arose, urging schools to suspend testing until 12:30 p.m.

Ritz said about 150,000 test sessions were completed by 11 a.m. but that interruptions spiked a short time later.

Indianapolis Public Schools spokesman John Althardt said the problems were discouraging.

"There is so much buildup and expectation and anticipation about what the test means that any disruptions in the schedule and rhythm of testing for our students is frustrating for us," he said. "We feel we've done our best to prepare our students and schools and then when we're unable to conduct this testing. It's a source of frustration."

In 2011, up to 10,000 students statewide were logged off and some were unable to log back in for up to an hour while taking the test. The state invalidated 215 scores that year because they were lower than expected.

About 9,000 students were kicked offline during the test last year.

Carol Stream, Ill.-based McGraw-Hill administers the exam under a four-year, $95 million contract with the Indiana Department of Education. The contract runs through June 2014.

The contract requires McGraw-Hill to provide "uninterrupted" computer availability every school day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the two weeks prior to each testing window, as well as for the entire testing window.