Common Core tests OK, but Nevada gives leeway to schools

AP News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2015 7:58 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Limited testing was successful Friday in Nevada for the troubled Common Core assessments, but now the state is offering school districts leeway that could present an unprecedented challenge to the federal testing mandate.

It's the latest option given to school systems across three states impacted by a widespread system crash with New Hampshire-based Measured Progress. Nevada, Montana and North Dakota contract with the company to administer the tests that are linked to hotly disputed, federally backed education standards.

On Tuesday, the company's server crashed due to capacity and coding problems. It caused spotty access and a logistical nightmare. Testing stopped but has cost some schools money in the form of substitute teachers.

The Nevada Department of Education on Friday declared the technical issue a statewide irregularity in test administration, triggering a state statute that will allow school districts to document its attempts to count as testing participation, at least locally.

Nevada, like North Dakota, has encouraged the paper test as an alternative while also giving districts who say they can't finish testing some relief. Meanwhile, Montana has offered a waiver to the mandatory test completely.

All three states say they expect most schools will take the computerized English language arts and math tests for selected grades, but they don't know what consequences could be handed down at the federal level. Millions in school funding could be at stake.

The U.S. Department of Education continues to stand firm, saying there are no exceptions to the federal testing mandate requiring at least 95 percent of all students to take standardized tests. The problem is unprecedented, as money has never been withheld over testing participation compliance.

In Nevada, the little-known statute is being applied statewide for the first time given that it saw the heaviest stalls with the largest number of affected students. The safety net has been used previously as an exception on a school by school basis, such as when tests are destroyed in a building fire or disaster.

"It's not the schools' fault. We recognize the issue. We own the issue," said Steve Canavero, the state's deputy superintendent.

The state has asked local officials to decide by Tuesday whether they will continue with the paper or computer version of the test. Full capacity is expected to be running again on Monday. Only 14 percent of the state's 210,000 students have finished testing.

Las Vegas-based Clark County School District said it plans to stay with the computer version for its 150,000 students, but it won't continue testing if problems persist.

"If it fails again, we're done," said Leslie Arnold, an assistant superintendent with the country's fifth largest school system. "If it did what it did this week, I cannot see us putting our students in front of this test."