Test server crash negatively affects Ponoka students

An Alberta Education server failure last week affected more than 8,000 students across the province

A server crash at Alberta Education created havoc for thousands of students across the province. Karley Bodnarchuk says the crash forced her to seek a rewrite sometime in April.

A server crash at Alberta Education created havoc for thousands of students across the province. Karley Bodnarchuk says the crash forced her to seek a rewrite sometime in April.

An Alberta Education server failure last week affected more than 8,000 students across the province, including Ponoka’s Grade 12s, as technology failed and left many unable to write their diploma exams on time.

Grade 12 student Karley Bodnarchuk, who set to write the essay portion of her English diploma exam Tuesday, Jan. 13 found out she was unable to log on to the server with a supplied Google Chromebook.

Across the province, the system crashed at 9:01 a.m. In some areas students were able to log back on before it crashed a second time. Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) superintendent Larry Jacobs says this put the affected students half an hour behind schedule.

“I freaked out a little bit,” said Bodnarchuk. “I was just trying my best to just get my thoughts together.”

Bodnarchuk sat down to write the exam using the online software QuestA+ but was unable to access it.

“What they’ve (Alberta Education) established over the last few years is a portal,” said Jacobs. ‘That was the genesis of the problem. It’s one portal, one opening.”

The issue came with the system not having enough server capacity to support more than 8,000 students signing on at one time.

With students enrolled in classes months before an exam, Alberta Education knew how many students would be taking the exam. “What really surprised us is they didn’t have a system with enough server capacity already in place,” said Jacobs.

The diploma exam has two parts and is worth 50 per cent of the overall grade. This exam was the first part of the two, the second is in April.

Alberta Education issued an apology to those students affected by the system failure. Speaking for Alberta Education was Tamara Magnan, who said that rewrite fees were waived to students who wanted to do the exam again.

“For that reason we are allowing students who were impacted by the outage to apply for a partial exemption by speaking to their school principals. The partial exemption will calculate their final course mark based on their school awarded mark and the Part B, or reading, part of the diploma exam,” said Magnan.

Students could have written the exam on Microsoft Word

Students could have chosen to write out the essay or type it out on a computer, in this case at PSC they used Google Chromebooks, which are a laptop type computers designed to use Internet-based services.

The teacher proctoring the exam tried to give students more time and said not to worry about the time limit and recommended they write it out by hand.

The exam could have been written with a computer or laptop that had Microsoft Word installed but there were none at PSC. She believes a majority of Grade 12 students taking the exam were using a Chromebook. Other schools in the division were able to supply laptops with Word installed.

Bodnarchuk said the experience was disappointing considering Alberta Education knew many months in advance that students had signed up for the exam. She went into the diploma exam expecting to write it that day but must now prepare for it once again.

With new teaching systems across the province, Jacobs says many students are not able to aptly construct using longhand methods. “There are a lot of students in the division who hadn’t used pen and paper in a long time.”

“I banged out half the diploma and I just kind of had that sinking feeling that there was no way that I could get what I wanted to across in the time that I had,” explained Bodnarchuk.

She decided to take the rewrite as she worried her performance was not up to par.

“I did ask for a computer and it was something I was relying on to get that good mark,” Bodnarchuk said.

The next time Bodnarchuk can take the rewrite is in April.

To sign her up for the exam she is getting placed in an after-school English class to ensure she is signed up for the class. Bodnarchuk won’t have to do the work but has a full course load for next semester.

“It’s not confirmed but I might have to write both parts anyway because they don’t know if they can split up the rewrite like that,” said Bodnarchuk.

She will have three diploma exams to write in April instead of two. “I wasn’t expecting it but I’m willing to do it.”

In talking with other students who opted to write out the exam, Bodnarchuk says some of them would have preferred to take the rewrite for the same reason she did.

A member of the school body wishing to remain anonymous said one issue was that students had to get used to using QuestA+ web software this year after using Microsoft Word for much of their education. “It’s just another uncontrolled variable to throw at a student during a diploma (exam).”

They said the school had new computers last year but switched them out with Chromebooks. Students were given an opportunity to use at the QuestA+ program prior to the exams but the software is not as robust as Word. “It’s almost like bringing up Notepad on your computer.”

While Jacobs feels students within the WCPS division were able to get comfortable with the backup provisions provided it does not erase the damage caused. “Every division in our school was impacted negatively around that.”

Working in a new environment

The school body member questions the whole education system and the reasoning behind the tests considering Alberta Education is rolling out 21st century learning. Despite the new curriculum students are faced with the same method of testing. “The style of learning they’re teaching now doesn’t apply to a test being given now.”

Bodnarchuk says she feels the new learning has created a mix of writing and using computers to take notes and she suggests this generation of students have had to bear the brunt of the transition.

The open concept system at PSC is now more collaborative but there can be times noise affects learning.

Other issues students face with the new system is with printing documents from a personal device. A student has to send an email to an Internet client, which then sends a confirmation code back to the student who inputs the info to a printer.

“This is another example of the old way doesn’t fit with the new style,” said the school member.