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Memphis school scrambles to replace stolen laptops for new online state test, only to revert to paper tests

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The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride for leaders of KIPP Memphis University Middle School, the target of three recent break-ins resulting in the theft of 23 laptop computers — just as students were preparing to take the state’s new online test.

Then, after scrambling to replace the laptops to ensure that each student had one to take this week’s TNReady assessment, school leaders learned Monday that their students would be taking the test with paper and pencils after all due to a statewide network outage of the state’s new online testing platform.

“There’s always a Plan A, but invariably we have to switch to Plan B,” school principal Mitch Bartkiewicz said of the chaotic weeks. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s life.”

KIPP Memphis University Middle is a charter school operated by the state-run Achievement School District. The state took control of the south Memphis school several years ago and assigned it to charter network KIPP as part of a turnaround plan aimed at achieving steady and significant improvement in student test scores. Thus, the importance of doing well on Tennessee’s new TNReady assessment is not lost on school administrators or faculty.

Now that TNReady will be administered on paper instead of online, school leaders are trying to stay flexible, while acknowledging that Monday’s technical problems were as much of a surprise as the break-ins.

“The state has done a good job of laying out the expectations. … The practice tests were well orchestrated,” Bartkiewicz said. “It seems today was out of left field.”

The school’s students were scheduled to take the online test beginning Wednesday, two days after the state’s testing window opened. Leaders made the decision to start on Wednesday instead of on Monday in order “to make sure things were smooth” with the state’s new online testing platform. Bartkiewicz said the school didn’t experience software or server issues during practice tests.

Students at KIPP Memphis University Middle now must wait until the paper exams arrive from the State Department of Education before they can take the test — another opportunity to learn about the importance of flexibility amidst change and adversity.

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