Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) recollects this began with Windows 98, the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.

Who’s old enough to remember the Blue Screen of Death? That agonizing moment when the computer froze and whatever work one was doing was lost. That agonizing moment when a reboot was the only solution at hand. That agonizing moment when one cursed whatever impulse caused them to buy a Windows machine instead of a Mac.

GOT is old enough and he is reminded of those bad, old days as he rushes from testing room to testing room to solve the Black Screen of Agony, when students taking a high-stakes test assessment that will comprise 30% of their course grade, cannot move from one question to the next because their screen fades into the Black Screen of Agony.

It’s time for standardized testing, but the testing experience is anything but standardized for the children undergoing this rite of Spring. For some unknown reason, the testing app for Microsoft computers that is called unironically “Take-A-Test,” malfunctions for a few students every test. Not everyone, only a few that the gods of testing decided to pick on, and they will struggle with technological problems throughout.

It’s not standardized testing when every student does not have the same testing experience. Getting kicked out of the test every 10 minutes does not qualify. The Black Screen of Agony appearing each time a child tries to move to a new question does not qualify when the test works fine for most. The affected children are at a disadvantage in relation to their peers who are also taking the test.

We are told to stop the testing for affected children until we can resolve the technological issues. Often, the real issue is too many computers trying to test in the same location at the same time. For some strange reason, the random student who is having connectivity issues will continue to have issues even after restarting the computer and making a fresh connection to the wireless hub.

If we resume the test the next day, almost always the issue has disappeared. For Florida’s new tests, Cambium Assessment and the Department of Education have decided that students may finish testing within 48 hours of starting if they have technological problems. The problem is that when they say 48 hours, they literally mean 48 hours. If a student begins the test at 9 AM on Monday, they must finish by 9 AM on Wednesday.

When we hear 48 hours, we think two days. But when you work out the actual count of hours and think about when children are in their school building, you realize that there is only one day to resume the test and complete it. GOT supposes that is better than saying the child must finish before they leave school the same day.

Plus, you might think the 48 hours applies to school days, like when you are told a bank will take 10 business days to release a hold of funds on a deposit, That’s 10 business days, which means two calendar weeks. But no, 48 hours is 48 hours. So a child who started their test at 8:30 AM on Friday means they must finish by 8:30 AM on Sunday.

Of course, the testing platform is shut down around 4 PM on Friday. Even if adults are willing to open the building and work on Saturday, the test platform would be inoperable. This was hilariously obvious back in 2021 when the Florida Department of Education allowed Saturday testing for parents who were keeping their children home. They could go to their school on Saturday and be isolated as they took their tests apart from the population who had returned to in-person learning.

The first Saturday, all you-know-what broke loose as nobody could get their test running. It turns out the state employee who was supposed to go in on Saturday and turn on the testing platform overslept. Once that was rectified, the testing commenced.

Thus, given we have to test on a Friday, despite the tech problems and the Black Screen of Agony, we have to keep the children in the test no matter what because they cannot finish on Monday.

It literally is a black screen. There is no writing, no error message. The only way out is a Control-Alt-Delete and an exit from the test.

What’s the upshot? Except for one student, the others all finished even though one girl had to test the entire day because she had to restart her test each time she moved to a new question. For context, that’s 55 test questions. FIFTY-FIVE times encountering the Black Screen of Agony, FIFTY-FIVE times restarting a computer, FIFTY-FIVE times.

There has to be a better way. All of us know what it is.

In GOT’s town, you put your trash bin on the curb for pick-up on Mondays and Thursdays.

3 thoughts on “The Black Screen of Agony

  1. Bill Gates famously set the bar that tech only needs to work 80% of the time to be acceptable. So you’re ahead of the Microsoft game when only one child has repeatedly faced the Black Death.

    Yeah, there is no longer any “standardized” admission of any other these tests, because the conditions are no longer standard. But no one in the general public – just teachers – understand that concept, especially none of the pontificating economists.


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