New security concerns over company meant to fix Indiana’s ISTEP woes

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 20, 2015)-- New concerns about Indiana’s ISTEP+ test has the Indiana State Board of Education working to ensure safeguards are in place. Last week Pearson, the company which received the winning bid to begin administering the test in 2016, was victim of an apparent cyber attack.

The attack forced Minnesota education officials to halt statewide standardized testing.

“The department does not presently have the confidence that Pearson’s systems will operate smoothly,” the Minnesota Department of Education said in a statement.

The halt comes after weeks of other reported problems with Pearson’s server.

Earlier this week, the Texas Education Agency voted to shy away from Pearson for the first time in decades, opting to switch to a new testing vendor, ETS.

Pearson’s winning bid through the Indiana Department of Administration is estimated at $38 million dollars for two years, after a slew of documented problems under current vendor McGraw Hill.

This past spring, a number of Indiana school districts were allowed to administer the test with pencil and paper after server problems hindered online testing.

Lawmakers were also forced to quickly act after it was revealed the test could take up to 12 hours to complete.

“So unfortunately we are in the same situation we were in last year,” Wendy Robinson said last month, Fort Wayne’s superintendent. “High-stakes tests and the infrastructure at the state level’s not in place to get it done.”

In a statement to FOX59, Pearson said the ISTEP+ will be administered on a different platform than in Minnesota saying, “…since those attacks we have been closely monitoring the activity of our systems and remaining vigilant for any additional issues.”

Pearson is reported to be the largest education company in the world.

“Most of the major testing companies are facing those kinds of challenges,” Marc Lotter said, spokesperson for the Indiana State Board of Education. “That’s something we’ve experienced here under a previous vendor. It’s something we definitely want to take a look at as we’re moving forward with this new contract.”

Final contract details between Pearson and the Indiana Department of Education still need to be finalized and negotiated.

Lotter said the State Board of Education will work to ensure safeguards are in place.

“Test integrity is something that testing companies and the states take very seriously, something the Department of Education takes very seriously,” Lotter said. “So it is something we will mandate in the new contract with the testing company, and obviously there’s going to have to be performance metrics that are used and penalties if those companies are not able to deliver a safe and reliable testing environment.”

Pearson said no student data has been compromised.

“This malicious, third party attack was a deliberate attempt to overload and slow down system traffic,” the company’s statement said, adding the attacks “are not attempts to access student data.”

Daniel Altman, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education said in a statement, “Obviously we are aware of what is happening in Minnesota and are monitoring it. However, because the contract is not finalized, we cannot comment further.”