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Student testing stopped

State education officials suspended electronic standardized testing of public school students Wednesday after the statewide computer-based system repeatedly failed over an eight-day period, wiping out thousands of test results.

They will decide Tuesday whether to scrap the electronic assessments in favor of old-school paper and pencil tests for high-stakes testing in April in reading and math.

The state had been testing a sample of Oregon pupils on the electronic system since Feb. 12 to compare its effectiveness to manual tests, which were retired about three years ago.

Owned and operated by Vantage, of Newtown, Pa., the system initially failed Feb. 26, losing thousands of test results across the state.

Among those affected were scores of pupils at Jacksonville, Oak Grove and Roosevelt elementary schools in the Medford School District.

The results of up to 18,000 tests could have been lost in one day, though the exact number has not been tallied, state officials said.

Students in Medford had begun retaking the three-hour tests later in the week, but the process was subsequently delayed by intermittent system failures.

"We had an entire sixth-grade class lose a day's work," said Cheryl Lemke, assistant principal at Oak Grove Elementary. "The kids were bummed. They had a lot of schoolwork to do in class."

Vantage, the state's service provider for electronic testing, is slated to lose its contract at the end of June.

The state is negotiating with other vendors to provide the services. Vantage executives did not return phone calls seeking information about the cause of the service interruptions.

"I think Vantage has moved on," said Medford curriculum director Todd Bloomquist, a member of the state assessment advisory board. "We are not getting a lot of response from them. They know the contract is over."

Since Vantage started providing services three years ago, electronic testing had gone relatively smoothly, he said.

"We would have a slowdown when a lot of people were on the system, but we never lost data at this capacity," Bloomquist said. "We would have a hiccup once in a while when a student would lose a question but not a whole day's work."

The malfunctioning system had been consuming instructional time and frustrating pupils, he said. It also could have caused discrepancies in test results.

"The frustration level for kids on a test changes the way they perform," he said.

The federal government had ordered the state to conduct a study to find out whether the electronic tests are as accurate as paper tests and adequately reflect pupils' knowledge in reading and math.

State officials said they're uncertain whether they have enough results to complete the study.

Reach reporter Paris Achen by calling 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.