Education

After ACT Inc. said it stands by South Carolina’s ACT scores, the state Department of Education said the company should take more responsibility for the problems with its online testing last spring.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman said in a released statement the state’s scores are not an accurate reflection of South Carolina students because of crashes and disruptions with the online version of the test.

“The online administration was mired with ACT system failures that led to cancelled and inaccurate score reporting,” Spearman said.

A letter from ACT to school districts in May said:

“Some students experienced technical issues during the online administration of the ACT. These issues may have created disruptions or distractions, altered the timing of the tests, led students to change their test-taking strategy, or had other impacts. The scores from an administration where technical problems occurred may not be an accurate reflection of a student’s knowledge or skills. Technical issues that occurred during online testing may have compromised the validity of some student scores.”

But a representative from ACT Inc. said the company stands by the scores issued.

“Any South Carolina students who experienced technical issues during testing were provided an opportunity to take the ACT again at no cost,” Ed Colby, senior director of media and public relations with ACT Inc., said. “Students impacted by technical issues were also given the option of canceling their scores if they felt the scores weren’t representative of their abilities.”

Colby said the online system failure stemmed from a national outage with their server provider, Amazon Web Service.

“ACT stands behind all of the ACT scores that it reported in South Carolina,” Colby said. “ACT does not issue scores it deems to be invalid for any reason.”

But Ryan Brown, chief communications officer with the state Department of Education, said ACT has already admitted the validity of some students’ scores is in question.

“ACT seems to prefer a narrative that focuses on their day one testing failure — to which they respond by blaming Amazon. But focusing on that single day is a mistake, because it misses the broader picture of ACT’s failures, e.g., a) ACT did not provide a reliable online testing system to SC, b) ACT’s test system failed during testing, c) ACT had a series of technical problems which they have acknowledged, as well as other problems, d) ACT did not provide appropriate technical support to sustain online testing, e) ACT did not provide quality training to SC schools and districts support to online testing,” Brown said.

Brown said ACT has claimed some responsibility with the testing failures, but has also backtracked those claims in various communications with the department and school districts.

“What we’ve found is, generally, in some way shape or form, ACT has been at fault,” Brown said.

He said the company has blamed district infrastructure for some of the online failures, but Brown said the districts administer other tests online without any problems, and districts without the infrastructure to handle the test administered it with paper and pencil.

“When ACT is the only test that has issues and the other tests that we also give online are not having issues, then they’re the X factor,” Brown said.

Contact staff writer Ariel Gilreath at 864-943-5644 or follow on Twitter @IJARIELGILREATH.