Problems similar to those that plagued online writing tests in February prompted Lincoln Public Schools officials to stop statewide reading tests for half a day this week.

Middle school students in the district experienced the most problems -- students being kicked off the online system or unable to log on -- although some elementary schools also experienced problems, said Jane Stavem, LPS associate superintendent of instruction.

District officials told school administrators to stop testing about noon Tuesday. By Wednesday, testing had resumed, Stavem said, and things had improved but some students were still having problems logging or staying logged on.

“We’ve been able to continue," she said. "It’s bumpy in some places, and that’s really frustrating, but we’re trying to keep moving forward.”

Earlier this year, widespread technical problems with the online statewide writing test affected more than 3 percent of the state’s 44,000 eighth- and 11th-graders.

Nebraska Department of Education officials worked closely with Data Recognition Corp., the Minnesota-based company it hired to administer the tests, and thought they were on their way to isolating and fixing the problems.

Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt promised the state Board of Education they would not move forward unless they were convinced problems had been solved.

Valorie Foy, the department’s director of statewide assessment, said there have been minor problems in other districts but issues within LPS have been the most widespread.

Omaha Public Schools spokesman Todd Andrews, for instance, said the district was not having significant issues.

The problems at LPS are occurring because of the way its network is set up, although it’s not a problem with the LPS system itself, Foy said.

In most districts, including Omaha, the software used to store the tests is put on servers used by individual buildings. LPS uses larger servers that serve more schools and the way the Data Recognition Corp. software was configured, it couldn’t handle the load caused by testing.

Foy said Data Recognition Corp. told LPS officials using larger servers would work. Now, the software has been reconfigured in a way officials hope will work better.

She said Data Recognition Corp. should have recognized the problem.

“It’s something that when working with LPS we wish would have been seen by DRC.”

Stavem said the problems are not caused by the LPS system.

The Education Department gives districts a window -- March 24-May 9 -- to administer statewide reading and math tests to third- through eighth- and 11th-graders and science tests to fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders.

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Foy said they extended the testing window one week this year.

Statewide, 105,000 of the 370,000 tests in all three subjects have been given, she said.

At LPS, district officials tell schools what order to give the tests -- reading, followed by math, then science -- but schools devise their own testing schedules, which are influenced by how big the school is and how many mobile and traditional computer labs they have.

Stavem doesn’t anticipate a problem finishing all the testing within the window, but said scheduling the tests is difficult and it’s troubling when problems disrupt the schedule.

LPS officials hope enough of the glitches will be behind them to allow schools to resume regular schedules next week. Make-up tests, if needed, could be given at the end of the window. She said the district plans to send letters or emails to inform parents of changes.

Some testing started last week, she said, but began in earnest this week.

District officials have been working closely with Data Recognition and the Education Department to work through the glitches, and Stavem said they’ve been very helpful.

“We’ve had great cooperation ... but that doesn’t change the reality that it’s a tough situation when you’re in a room full of kids and it’s not going well.”

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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