North Dakota's Common Core Roll Out Couldn't Be Going Any Worse


When you’re an embattled statewide elected official trying to roll out testing for a hugely controversial education initiative that was the subject of a bruising political fight at the state legislature what’s the last thing you want to happen?

Computer glitches. That’s the last thing you want to happen. Apparently things are so bad federal funding is on the line:

Federal funding could be at stake as Common Core testing problems continued in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota, state and U.S. officials said.

The three states contract with New Hampshire-based Measured Progress to administer the tests that are linked to hotly disputed, federally backed education standards.

“We expect states to hold Measured Progress accountable, just like we expect the states to hold the districts accountable” for testing, said Dorie Nolt, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

On Tuesday, the company’s server crashed due to capacity, causing spotty access and logistical frustrations before testing stopped. It also cost some schools money in the form of substitute teachers.

Superintendent Kirsten Baesler – the aforementioned embattled statewide elected official – is thinking the feds will give us a pat on the head even if we just gave it the old college try:

North Dakota said it is prepared for any consequences, given that some districts are ending the school year in as few as 20 days.

Officials encouraged finishing the computer test or ordering the paper test. Any school system that can’t get it done will document attempts in what could be a plea for leniency later.

“I think the Department of (Education) will look at the effort we give in,” said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota’s state superintendent. “Did they give up the second week of April or was it a substantial effort?” …

North Dakota said it’s not clear how it will deal with the company. Its three-year contract started this year and cost $4.68 million.

“When the dust settles and our students are taken care of and the school year concludes, then we’ll begin to look at what happened here,” Baesler said.

I was speaking to my daughter who is a student in the Minot Public Schools system and she said some of the early testing they did the computer systems they were supposed to use worked really poorly. She said it was so bad students figured out they could get the computer systems to tell them the right answers by highlighting the questions. Apparently, the right answer would somehow be visible.

My daughter – a straight-A student her whole life who likes testing and academics – wasn’t very impressed.

Some local school officials don’t seem to be very impressed either. In Fargo, Superintendent Jeff Schatz is pointing the finger at Baesler and DPI:

“There have been times when the state system goes down and that impedes the progress of the testing,” said Fargo Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz. “There have been log-in issues where the test proctors have had trouble with getting the kids” in the online testing system.

“There is a level of frustration at the local level with the overall technology issues,” he said.

Fargo’s technology is up to the task for the online testing, Schatz said. However, the Department of Public Instruction has been unable to keep up its end of the deal.

According to the Forum article, Baesler has told students that if “they can’t finish all of the North Dakota State Assessment tests, they should focus on the computer adaptive testing, and forgo classroom activities and performance tasks.”

You have to wonder if the final weeks of the school year are going to be absorbed by this clusterfark, with students waiting around for teachers and administrators and technicians to figure out the testing.

To be fair, this isn’t exactly an indictment of the Common Core standards (as some of the activists who oppose those standards are claiming), but it is embarrassing for school officials in charge of implementing the testing.

With Baesler already limping into the 2016 election cycle, wounded by the Common Core debate and personal scandal, this isn’t a good development.