Cyber attack on testing company affected several other states


Cyber attack on testing company affected several other states

By MATT BLOIS

The cyber attack that stopped some students from taking standardized tests in Tennessee this week also affected several other states.

At a hearing about the testing problems in the Tennessee legislature on Wednesday, the Chief Operating Officer for the company that administers the tests, Brad Bumgartner, said the same attack affected four or five other states.

The Mississippi Department of Education announced that on Tuesday morning its students had issues logging onto online tests administered by Questar, but it didn’t list a reason explaining why.

The  New York State Education Department also reported technical problems with online tests administered by Questar on Tuesday morning, but didn’t say if the problems were caused by a cyber attack.

Bumgartner didn’t specify which states were affected. The company provides testing in seven different states.

The cyber attack prevented students from submitting the answers to the tests on Tuesday, but a totally unrelated problem stopped them from logging in on Monday. The problem on Monday was caused by a flaw in the design of the software.    

At the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Bumgartner explained that the online testing system used the same login system as another piece of software used by teachers across the state. That’s what caused the delays on Monday. 

“From Questar’s perspective, had we to do it over again, we would have made a different design decision,” he said. “That was the root of the problem on Monday.”

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen also answered questions at the hearing on Wednesday afternoon. She said that the  state’s department of education has been communicating with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation about the cyber attack. However, the agency hasn’t launched an official investigation yet.

After the hearing, McQueen talked to the District Attorney in Davidson County to ask about starting an official investigation.

Bumgartner said that the Minnesota Bureau of Investigation had contacted Questar, but that agency hadn’t started an official investigation either. Questar’s corporate office is located in Minnesota.

McQueen and Bumgartner said that the cyber attack on Tuesday shouldn’t have kicked students out of the tests. McQueen said the tests are downloaded onto the computer that the student is using. The cyber attack prevented students from submitting their answers, but the computer should have saved them. She said students should be able to submit those answers when the computer reconnects.

However, some lawmakers said that teachers and superintendents in their districts were reporting students who lost their answers because of the problems. Rep. Shiela Butt, from Columbia, said that she received a text message during the hearing about high school students in her district that had problems logging onto the tests on Wednesday afternoon.   

At the hearing, Ted Horrell, the Superintendent of the Lakeland school system near Memphis, said that students in his district and others were forced out of the test.

“In many cases they went to lunch, in some cases they went home,” he said. “In our case they are returning now, at least a day later, to complete those same questions.”

He said that because of those issues, the testing results shouldn’t be used in evaluations of teachers, schools or parents. 

The state legislature is currently considering a bill that has an amendment that would prevent schools from using the results of tests in the 2017 to 2018 school year on teacher evaluations if they hurt the teacher.

The House adopted that amendment on Tuesday, as well as another amendment that would require the state to use pencil and paper tests rather than online tests.

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