Last week was another relatively quiet week, with only a smattering of IT-related errors, malfunctions or problems being reported. But those that were gave one a definite sense of déjà vu. Yet again, Oklahoma, Florida, and Indiana reported problems last week with their end-of-school-year online standardized testing.
On Monday, the AP reported that Oklahoma state education officials had to suspend online testing across the state for middle school and high school students; the tests either responded very slowly or quit working altogether. This comes after a similar occurrence last year, and promises from the testing vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, that the company would take steps to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again. CBT/McGraw-Hill apologized for what it called a “network service interruption” it said lasted only three hours.
Testing resumed on Tuesday and proceeded without further incident for the remainder of the week.
Last year's testing problems forced CBT/McGraw-Hill to forgo $1.2 million in order to settle damage claims filed by Oklahoma. However, this latest incident is likely to cost CBT/McGraw-Hill its $13.5 million per year online testing contract. State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi, who came under fire for last year’s testing fiasco and staked her reputation on ensuring that this year’s testing would be carried off without a hitch, said she would be recommending that Oklahoma not renew CBT/McGraw-Hill’s contract. If any other testing problems erupt this year, expect calls for Barresi’s contract not to be renewed as well.
Then on Tuesday, connectivity problems derailed online testing in many of Florida’s 67 school districts trying to administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The problems led state education officials to suspend online testing across Florida. Pearson, the company which holds Florida’s 5-year, $254 million online testing contract, apologized for the disruptions, which it blamed on its hosting service sub-contractor.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the testing problems “unacceptable” and said the state would “pursue all liquidated damages and other remedies that may be available as a result of Pearson’s failure to fulfill its duty under the contract with the department.” This is the second time in four years that there have been problems with the FCAT. In 2010, Florida fined Pearson $14 million for delivering the FCAT results late.
FCAT testing resumed across the state on Wednesday, but some schools in the Miami-Dade area reported they were still having problems. Those, however, were attributed to a Microsoft security update issue. No testing concerns were reported in Florida for the remainder of the week.
Indiana, which, like Oklahoma, contracts with CTB/McGraw-Hill for its online standardized testing, also experienced massive problems last year. And it is reportedly very nervous about the start of its ISTEP tests this week. CTB/McGraw-Hill says that it is “confident about everything we have control over” and that it “stands behind all the measures” it took to ensure that nothing happens this year. However, Indiana school officials are not as confident as CTB/McGraw-Hill given that some Indiana school districts were reporting trouble during their online ISTEP practice tests.
The four-year, $95 million ISTEP testing contract between the state and CTB/McGraw-Hill ends in four months, and the two still have not reached a final settlement over last year’s testing debacle.
Ulster Bank Has another IT System Issue
In another case of déjà vu, Ulster Bank apologized to its ATM customers for being debited twice on each transaction over a 24-hour period spanning Monday and Tuesday of last week, the Belfast Telegraph reported. Ulster Bank has suffered numerous banking issues over the past few years, such as an outage in 2012 that lasted for weeks. The bank is still trying to repair its reputation over that failure.
The bank promises to refund all of its customers for the ATM error and says no customer will lose money as a result.
Oregon Surrenders and Calls in the Feds to Provide Healthcare Insurance Portal
Oregon announced as expected that after spending over $248 million, it is going to close down its Cover Oregon healthcare insurance website and use the federal Affordable Care Act website for the next enrollment period that starts in November. The cost of trying to fix Cover Oregon was not fiscally prudent, since the move to the federal website was estimated to cost $5 million while the estimated cost to repair the site was some $78 million—a cost that the federal government probably would not underwrite.
Also, as expected, Oregon state health officials refused to call the Cover Oregon debacle a waste of money. They did concede, however, that the IT failure was a “disappointment.” State officials still insist that Oracle was mostly, if not entirely at fault, for the failure, which Oracle vigorously denies—which reinforces the old adage that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.
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Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.