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Kansas assessment tests hit by cyberattacks

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas schools that have been struggling to administer new math and reading assessment tests now have to deal with apparent cyberattacks on the testing system, according to state education officials.

This year is a pilot year for new, more technologically advanced state tests that rely less on multiple-choice questions and more on students filling out test answers or manipulating data on a screen. This year's test results won't count for accountability purposes such as school accreditation, but schools want students to adjust to the new test format before next year, when the results will matter.

The cyberattacks started last week shortly after test designers resolved internal technical glitches that had previously slowed test-taking, which began last month. The unknown attackers slowed down or disabled networks used to administer by overwhelming them with traffic, rather than hacking into them, and officials said no student data was compromised, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1h2e1YO ).

The attacks started Thursday and briefly stopped on Sunday. Testing ran smoothly again on Monday, but the attacks resumed Tuesday, said Marianne Perie, director of the University of Kansas' Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which operates the state's testing platform.

Perie said the testing center is seeking outside help to address the cyberattacks, but she declined to describe steps the company and the center are taking. Perie said the testing center has notified school districts they should expect to wait until Thursday to resume testing.

The state education department said Tuesday that school districts have to complete testing, but department spokeswoman Denise Kahler said there are no penalties for failing to do so. Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker also sent a message to school districts Tuesday saying Kansas is required by federal law to administer the tests.

"It is KSDE's expectation that districts and schools do the same," DeBacker wrote in an email. "Please know that KSDE understands the frustration experienced by many students and staff members while the new assessment has been rolled out," she said. "The perseverance by all is greatly appreciated."

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com