How a cartoon comes to life when Florida goes to test.

The micro-credential craze seems to have passed, but when it comes to doing computer testing, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has certainly earned one. Computer testing brings its own challenges, especially when it comes to the state-contracted platform (Cambium Assessment), as teachers and school test coordinators scramble to make it work.

We need gadget arms like the cartoon character to take a student’s balky device, troubleshoot its issues, and get the student onto the platform and taking their test without further glitches. Arms that stretch out to reach into all corners of the … let’s call it the testin-verse … because Murphy’s law is insufficient to describe a state testing day in your local public school.

Let’s set the stage. GOT’s district has gone one-to-one with devices. Every student is issued their own laptop … except when they are not. This year, because who would have thunk it? GOT’s school doesn’t have enough laptops for the incoming students because the outgoing students (graduation, transfer, moving out of district, and WKWTFTHG?) didn’t turn theirs in.

Teachers send students to the testing coordinator, who happens to be GOT, to get a laptop. Um, no, GOT doesn’t have a couple dozen sitting in a back closet charging up ready to go. He has none, zero, nada.

The school cannot cover it. We are waiting for a district shipment that will arrive the last week of the month, the same time when the state testing window will close. GOT does not envy his principal’s job when the district calls to complain about the number of students who did not take the new state reading test, now given three times a year instead of once in the spring, for lack of devices. District poohbahs seldom like to hear that it was their fault.

Let’s recover from this tangent and talk about what takes place in a testing room with students who do have computers.

The educational version of Microsoft Windows (GOT’s district got into bed with Bill Gates long ago and seems stuck to the sheets … OMG, GOT is blushing, did he really say that? It is true) comes with an embedded app called Take-A-Test.

You won’t find it on the list of installed apps if you go to the settings. It is part and parcel of Windows. It is the only way students can access the state testing platform, which is run by Cambium Assessments, a company spun off by American Research Institute when they became tired of testing.

Take-A-Test shuts down everything on the laptop except the connection to the testing platform. This is essential to prevent students from opening other apps or browsers for cheating.

Students activate the app from the sign-in screen. Go, go Gadget Arms! the first problem is that students sign into their computer. On their desktop, despite IT’s promises for two years that they will remove it, the students see an icon for the test. It doesn’t work. In the past, they would get to another sign-in screen before getting LibCheck error, which means the app cannot access the school district’s student database software to authenticate their identity. This year, they get an incompatible message that the testing browser and the operating system won’t play nicely in the sandbox.

Go, Go Gadget Arms! The next problem is that students start the app correctly, but it doesn’t work. A teacher cannot solve this problem. If the app won’t load, it has to be reinstalled and that means the school tech has to reimage the drive. No test for you, frustrated student! GOT is alluding to a famous Seinfeld episode, but let’s not mix too many metaphors.

A myriad of other problems will crop up and this is where hero teachers a/k/a test administrators earn that micro-credential that they will never receive.

The student’s computer may be unable to communicate with the internet. When the teacher checks the connection, the computer says it is on the wireless hub. But the student is blocked from the test. Funnily enough, GOT has found that DISconnecting the computer, then REconnecting the computer to the school wireless hub will solve the problem.

The computer was lying? Who would have thunk it? Except for a harried teacher or test coordinator trying everything they can think of.

Sometimes the problem is that the student has switched their laptop into airplane mode, which means they turned off the internet connection temporarily. GOT always wants to think the best of students and always assumes it was not intentional. It’s just one more thing to check.

But sometimes, the computer won’t connect. When the student fires up the app, an error message comes back that the computer cannot reach the testing URL/website.

This is not a fatal error, but this is where the real skill (and that GD micro-credential that will never be awarded) comes into play. It takes a bit of trial-and-error to fix.

The first thing we try is a reboot. Shut the computer off and turn it back on. It’s surprising how often this solution works with silicon-based intelligence. Trust GOT, never try it with a carbon-based intelligence life form. We don’t come with off switches.

Sometimes, this works. Clearing the memory of the laptop allows it a new start and the problems go away. In other cases, it doesn’t.

You see, one of the problems with computer testing is the number of students who are computer testing. This places a large, out-of-the-ordinary demand upon bandwidth and connections that the infrastructure cannot keep up with.

In past years, schools did infrastructure tests months before the end-of-the-year tests to make sure things would work right. But in Florida, we have new tests to give and no one thought to check for bandwidth and testing capacity. Most of the problems schools are reporting are simply that too many students are trying to test at the same time–at the school, in the district, throughout the state–and no one thought about making sure the physical resources to support this effort would be in place.

What’s worse, the system seems to choose one or two students to pick on. While the rest of the room happily (um, no but that’s a topic for another day) tests without a problem, some students are repeatedly kicked out of the test and then told their computer won’t connect. But it was connected only moments ago.

Go, Go, Gadget Arms! When all else fails, in GOT’s district, the internet signal is still active in the wall ports that were installed back in the Clinton days of putting three desktop computers into every classroom. Like most teachers, he never throws anything away and can pull out an old ethernet cord and connect the student through the wall.

Problem solved.

Time to close. This month, a new problem has popped up. Students logged onto the test platform are suddenly kicked out. We do everything to get them back in, but the system refuses. When GOT checks the teacher interface, he finds that the system is telling the teacher the student is still active in the test. But at the student’s desk, clearly they are not active in the test.

Things are out of sync. But there is a solution. GOT uses the teacher interface to pause the student and take them out of the test. Then, he has the student reboot the computer. That puts everything back into sync. The student logs in, GOT allows them into the test, and there are no further problems.

Postscript: remember this post well. GOT is retiring after this year and this valuable knowledge, dear employer, is leaving with him. If you need him after May 2023, it will cost you. Let’s discuss terms.

One thought on “Go, Go, Gadget Arms!

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