For the first time, West Virginia students are taking standardized tests online. Schools across the state started online Westests earlier this month. Schools in other counties, that started testing earlier than Pocahontas County, had difficulty with the online exams. Several businesses reported problems with Internet service during the online testing periods at the schools.
But thanks to some careful planning and preparation by school employees, the Westests are running smoothly in Pocahontas County.
Schools Technology Director Ruth Bland said a software conflict was largely to blame for the problems encountered by other schools.
“We were aware of some of the problems some of the bigger counties were having,” said Bland. “Because we chose to sit back the first couple weeks and watch what was going on, I think that kind of helped our situation. They were able to iron out the software conflicts and we put the fixes on our computers. We started testing and we’ve had minimal problems with the software conflict or bandwidth.”
Bland said two staff members had to roll back software on hundreds of computers used for testing.
“My IT staff, which is a whopping staff of two – Gary Beverage and Nancy Martin – they actually had to put their hands on 240 computers to prepare them for the testing,” said Bland. “We go through automatic updates on our computer, like for Java and Adobe and things like that. What was happening is, the computers were going through those automatic updates, but the latest version of Adobe Air and Java were in conflict with the Westest software.”
Beverage and Martin manually installed older versions of the conflicting software and turned off automatic updates on the 240 testing computers.
Frontier Communications received federal funding to install high-speed broadband Internet to all public schools throughout the state. Bland said the service has been fast and reliable during the Westests.
“Our bandwidth has been very stable throughout this testing process,” she said. “We switched over to fiber in January and it was a real bumpy road getting the fiber connected to all the schools and being able to have consistent service. We have 20 megs at the high school, 10 megs at each of the other schools, and a 100 meg pipeline to Charleston. When we switched over to fiber, it was in and out. But by mid-February, they had ironed out all the problems and we have had wonderful speed. Every now and then, intermittently, we lose some speed at the high school site, but it’s been wonderful throughout the entire testing window.”
Bland said dividing testing into morning and afternoon sessions has helped to prevent bandwidth issues.
According to Bland, the Westest is used to evaluate both students and schools.
“They want to see student growth,” she said. “Not so much a particular score on a particular sub-test. They want to see how a student has grown from one year to another and whether the school has moved students into that growth pattern.”
Westests are taken by students in grades three through 11. Pocahontas County schools have until the end of the month to complete the testing.