CHARLESTON -- Officials with the Charleston school district say they've received assurances that no student data was vulnerable during a recent problem with an online test.

The company that provides the test indicated it's been "the target of repeated attacks," but they were attempts to disrupt its system, not hack into data, Superintendent Jim Littleford said Thursday.

The matter became public during Wednesday's Charleston school board meeting, when two parents -- one a district elementary school counselor -- said they were concerned about student privacy and any affect on test results.

Littleford said administrators plan to look into the expressed concerns but district technology personnel "did not think there had been any breach of information."

The test, called Measures of Academic Progress or MAP, is used to determine what students need additional tests to find the subject areas in which they might need help, district Assistant Superintendent Todd Vilardo said.

A screening process, but not the specific test, is required and the Northwest Evaluation Association based in Portland, Ore., which provides the exam, changed it to an online test this year, Vilardo explained.

During Wednesday's board meeting, parent Michael Cornebise said it was "only with great trepidation" that he and his wife Roxanne allowed their daughter to take the test.

He said "it could be years" before students know for sure if any of their personal information was obtained, and wondered if the test disruption might have been a distraction for students taking the test.

"Can we count on accurate results?" he asked.

Roxanne Cornibese, a counselor at Jefferson and Ashmore elementary schools, added that changes to the testing were announced on a Friday afternoon with testing set to begin at the start of the following week. She also questioned why parents weren't told about the problem.

"I should be able to decide if I'm going to risk my child's future," she said.

Board President Jason Coe said he wondered about the extent of student personal information that could come from the company's system, but added that "there is no doubt" district officials would look into the situation.

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Board member Susan Daniels said children can be a "great target" for identity theft because it's not often discovered until they're older.

Roxanne Cornebise also said she asked about postponing the testing, but only Ashmore Elementary School delayed it.

On Thursday, Ashmore Principal Brad Oakley said he decided to wait to start the testing there because he splits his time with duties as assistant principal at Charleston Middle School and wanted to first see how testing went at CMS.

He said he then waited until a meeting with other districts administrators, during which "we as a group decided to to ahead with the testing." The testing in Ashmore took place Wednesday and Thursday and "we didn't have any issues," he said.

Littleford said the problem consisted of computer screens going blank during testing. The company's system shut down because it was overloaded and the "aim was disruption," he said.

The decision was made to continue with the testing and there was "very little disruption" after the initial problem, Littleford said.

"When you do testing, there are always glitches that come up," he said. He added that he's "very conservative" when it comes to technology but online testing is part of "the nature of the world right now."

The problem occurred with MAP testing in schools nationwide and the company reported it to state and federal law enforcement, Littleford added.

The company notified schools of several measures it was taking in response, and district officials will also investigate to determine if anything needs to be addressed, he also said.

Vilardo, who oversees the district's curriculum, said there was "no indication that the disruption would render the test invalid." Training on how to help administer the test took place earlier this year, he added.

He also said he wants to find out from the company what personal student data it had, but the only information he knew of were students' names, grades and teachers. That's already public record unless a parent specifically indicates it's not to be available, he explained.

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Contact Fopay at dfopay@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6858.



Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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