By Suzanne Perez Tobias

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Students across Kansas on Tuesday tested the capacity of the state assessment system, which last spring was plagued by technical glitches, error messages and service disruptions.

State education officials called the event "Break KITE Day," a statewide effort to test the capacity of the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine servers.

Thousands of students across the state -- including about 30,000 in Wichita -- were scheduled to log on to the system at some point Tuesday to try to complete practice math or reading tests. The tests will not be graded; they are being used to simulate testing conditions so officials can evaluate the bandwidth at local schools and the capacity of the state's servers.

"It's a test to see if the system can handle the demand," said Lisa Lutz, testing coordinator for the Wichita district.

"If there are issues, districts or the state would have time to get those corrected" before the testing window begins March 9, she said.

In the spring, schools reported persistent technical glitches with state reading, math and science tests and experienced delays related to system overload. State officials also reported cyberattacks, which further paralyzed the system.

Experts at the University of Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which administers the tests, said the problems affected up to one-third of last year's math tests and two-thirds of English tests. That meant there wasn't enough data to calculate reliable scores, so Kansas education officials got federal approval not to release test results for the 2013-14 school year.

On Tuesday, as a couple dozen eighth-graders took practice math tests on computers in the Robinson Middle School library, Jennifer Armstrong said she was grateful for the test run.

Armstrong, data leader at Robinson, said the system seemed to work smoothly Tuesday morning, with only a handful of frozen screens, log-in problems and other glitches that were so prominent last spring.

She said some students jokingly told her they were "eager to actually break KITE," approaching the event as a challenge after last year's widespread glitches.

"A lot of them remember last year and how frustrating it was for them," Armstrong said. "It was a lot of preparation, a lot of time spent preparing and getting the kids and teachers ready and motivated, and then not being able to log on, or logging on and being kicked off, or getting logged on and not being able to answer questions."

The computer-based assessments are a new type of test that reflects Common Core state standards. They feature more complex questions and "technology-enhanced" items that require students to enter numerical answers, drag and drop items into correct categories or highlight portions of text that support a central idea.

State officials emphasized that last year's test was a trial run. The fully Common Core-aligned test will go into effect to meet a federal requirement this school year.

"It's critical for the kids to have an opportunity to practice the testing tools, and they know this is just a low-stakes practice," said Armstrong, who coordinates testing at Robinson. "The purpose of today is just to make sure they can figure out whatever it is that's not working and correct that."

Kansas students take state math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school. Normally, parents receive their children's scores and the public can view overall scores for specific schools, school districts or the state.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle