Digital WESTEST hits snag on first day

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By Chelsi Baker 
The Times West-Virginian

FAIRMONT — The Marion County Board of Education discussed issues surrounding the new digital format of this year’s WESTEST at their meeting Monday.

“No one knew anything about the issues that came up,” said Superintendent Gary Price. “We anticipated that they might, but there was a conference call this afternoon ... there were 42 counties looking for help.”

Today marked the first day of the WESTEST, which was to be taken digitally by connecting to a testing server associated with McGraw Hill. There was limited success, however, because of problems with software updates.

“Did we have an outstanding testing experience today? I would be dishonest if I told you we did,” Chad Norman, Marion County Board of Education’s technology director, told the board during Monday’s meeting. “We did not.”

The county was given recommendations as to what software and what versions of that software they should use to successfully complete testing, but the recommendations were not working today.

Marion County wasn’t the only one in the state that encountered issues. Forty-two counties expressed frustration today during a statewide conference call with testing officials.

Cabell County saw 675 invalidations when students attempted to log onto testing servers. Price and testing coordinators for Marion County started off the testing schedule with just four schools yesterday to phase the county into the process in anticipation of problems like this. But what exactly was the problem today?

The only glitch, Norman told the board, is with Adobe Air, a free program downloaded from the Internet. The version running in schools was not the one required to connect to the testing server and needed updated.

“Our technicians are out at the schools that were to begin testing today and tomorrow,” Price said. “They are out there this evening working however late it takes for them to work to put the update on those, and we anticipate a successful operation tomorrow.”

There was some limited success Monday, though, Price said.

“The older students seemed to be able to maneuver through it,” he said. Students from Mannington Middle, North Marion High and East Fairmont Junior High schools managed to update the software and begin testing. Jayenne Elementary, however, had no success.

The path of correction seems to depend on what operating systems the computers are running in the schools, said Price. Computers running Windows XP were able to complete testing, but those with Windows 7 were not able to correct the problem.

As far as the hardware goes, Norman told the board schools have what they need on site to test well. The county purchased and installed 404 new computers, two complete labs and 179 reconditioned laptops to ensure a successful WESTEST experience and to give the schools “good, hardy functioning machines,” he said.