MN - Computer Glitch 'Fails' High-School Students : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Glitch `fails' high-school students who passed basic skills writing test -- 1,394 students freed from threat of summer school


June 16, 2000


Sifting through her mail Tuesday, Peggy Nasby opened a letter from the St. Paul schools that made her go, " Yikes! "

Her son, she read, would have to go to summer school this year because he had not yet passed Minnesota's basic skills writing exam. A saver by nature, Nasby immediately dug out the letter her son received last year congratulating him on passing the writing test.

``When I first started reading it, it said `your child has been assigned to summer school,' and I thought, `Oh, no!' '' Nasby said.

Her son will not have to go to summer school this year. It turns out the district mistakenly sent letters to 1,394 teens this week, telling them that they had not passed the basic skills writing test and must go to summer school.

The letters began arriving Tuesday -- the last day of school for most students -- and the phone calls to the district started soon after. Officials moved quickly to fix the problem and began mailing out letters of apology on Wednesday.

Here's what happened. In compiling student information, a district computer glitch left out data for the students who passed the state's basic skills writing test last year as 10th-graders.

The state gives the test starting at 10th grade and requires Minnesota students to pass it by their senior year in order to graduate on time. Without data showing students had passed as sophomores, the district's computer saw a blank, which it interpreted as ``not passed.''

That generated an automatic letter to those kids telling them to make a date for summer school.

``We started getting phone calls. As soon as we figured out the kids were 11th-graders and it had to do with writing, we said, `Uh oh,' '' said Gene Janicke, an assistant area superintendent with the school district.

``When we figured out what had happened, we composed a letter'' of explanation and apology, he said.

While the kids who mistakenly received letters will breathe easier, students who really haven't passed the Minnesota basic skills writing test yet and got letters this week are required to attend summer school.

Unlike the reading and math tests, the writing exam requires an essay that must be graded by hand. The state released aggregate results in mid-May. Janicke said St. Paul got the individual data on the writing test in late May.

``When we get the scores back . . . we're really in a time crunch in terms of notifying summer school kids,'' he said.

Janicke said the district wants to work with state education officials to try and get the writing test results back to districts sooner.

It's not the first time a computer error has given St. Paul parents a start. In July 1997, letters were mistakenly sent to 800 families, saying their ninth-grade children had failed a statewide basic skills test and would have to attend summer school.

Paul Tosto covers the St. Paul schools and statewide education issues. He can be reached at or (651) 228-2119.

-- (, June 16, 2000

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