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Computer attack during standardized testing delays some exams in Colorado Springs school district

March 20, 2015 Updated: March 20, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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photo - Lori Benton assists the IT at the Lewis-Palmer Middle School in preparation for Monday's new online testing for the students Friday, April 11, 2014.  Photo by Mason Trinca, The Gazette
Lori Benton assists the IT at the Lewis-Palmer Middle School in preparation for Monday's new online testing for the students Friday, April 11, 2014. Photo by Mason Trinca, The Gazette 

At least one Colorado public school district's computer system was hacked during new Common Core-aligned statewide testing.

Colorado Springs School District 11, the Pikes Peak region's largest public school district with about 28,400 students, experienced what's known as a denial of service attack on March 11, district officials confirmed Thursday.

School districts in New Jersey and Florida reported similar experiences in recent weeks, as new, computerized assessments developed by several states, including Colorado, have rolled out.

The Colorado Department of Education did not know of other Colorado districts having problems with hacking during the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, Dana Smith, director of communications, said Thursday.

The network security issue at D-11 on the morning of March 11 meant the day's standardized testing had to be postponed for many students across the district, said Robert Curran, assistant superintendent and chief information officer for D-11.

The district experienced a heavy increase of external traffic attempting to access the D-11 network, he said, essentially overloading the system and shutting down the Internet service districtwide.

D-11 has more than 10,000 computers and laptops, most of which were being used at the time for the English language arts and math testing.

Students who had started testing were able to finish, but students waiting to begin could not do so, Curran said.

"Testing was suspended and rescheduled for a backup date at the individual schools," said Devra Ashby, D-11 spokeswoman.

However, no student information was compromised as a result of the attack, Ashby said.

The district's Internet service provider fixed the problem with the firewall, Curran said. But D-11 didn't get answers.

"We're not sure where it came from or why it happened," he said. "We were never able to tell, and our Internet service provider wasn't able to answer that either."

It was the first time for such an attack at D-11, Curran said, adding, "It took us by surprise."

The district has worked to prevent such a problem from occurring again, he said, but, for security reasons, he would not detail what steps were taken.

Some other area school districts have had more minor technology issues during the testing window, which started in late February and runs through April 3.

Testing on iPads and laptops in Manitou Springs School District 14 went fairly smoothly, with "no issues we could not work around," said assistant superintendent Tim Miller.

However, "A number of issues with desktop computers on the English language arts tests" cropped up, but math testing on Thursday seemed be going better, he said.

Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 was among the first to start testing in the last week of February and has completed the first half of English and math testing. The second half starts in April.

"We had some technology issues - most were frustrating in nature and not catastrophic," said Superintendent Walt Cooper.

For example, students reported a lag time in what they were seeing on the computer screen versus what they were typing on the keyboard, or a student would hit a button to move an item and would accidentally delete an answer instead.

"They were certainly issues we would not have experienced in the paper and pencil world," Cooper said. "We didn't have nearly the issues folks anticipated because our technology crew had done so much work on the front end. Quite frankly, we invested far too much time and energy into the testing."

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Contact Debbie Kelley: 476-1656

Twitter @inkywoman

Facebook Debbie Kelley

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