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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – South Florida students did not encounter any technical issues Monday while taking the state’s new standardized test, however, the state’s top law enforcement agency is investigating testing delays caused by cyber-attacks on a server used to administer the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen announced the FDLE investigation Monday, a week after school districts including those in South Florida, started reporting problems with the tests.
Stewart said, “While most Florida students are continuing to test successfully, we now know that some of the delays in testing late last week were due to cyber-attacks on our testing system operated by American Institutes for Research (AIR). The Department has been working with FDLE since last Thursday when we were notified about the problem and we will continue to provide them with any information possible to ensure they identify the bad actors and hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We are holding daily conference calls with AIR to ensure they immediately address any flaws or attacks on our system as we move forward in this second week of testing.”
Stewart went on, “Our highest priority is to make sure students can complete their tests and we will continue to work with AIR to ensure their system operates effectively. It is important to point out that AIR has reported that while access to the test has been delayed because of the cyber-attacks, no student data has been compromised. AIR is also working to capture any student writing responses that were reported lost and they believe the measures they have now put in place will prevent any future attacks from impacting testing. However, we know that we have to remain vigilant to ensure all our testing vendors protect students’ testing results and personal information at all times.”
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said, “FDLE’s Tallahassee Cyber-Crimes Squad began working with the Department of Education on Thursday to determine where these attacks are coming from and to identify suspects. This investigation is to be a priority for our Cyber-Crime Squad and we consulted with our counterparts at the FBI. If suspects are identified, we will work with prosecutors to ensure the perpetrators are held accountable.”
On Monday, March 2, Florida’s eighth, ninth and 10th grade students began taking the computer-based writing component of the English language arts Florida Standards Assessment. At the start of the two-week testing window, districts experienced a number of technical difficulties unrelated to the cyber-attack. Administrators were having problems logging into the testing system and some students were being logged out before completing tests.
The Department of Education blamed the problems on software issues and thought the situation was resolved Tuesday, but then suspected a cyber-attack when there were numerous reports of “white screens” after people tried to log into the system.
FDLE was contacted and is now trying to determine the source of the attacks.
According to AIR, the cyber-attack that caused a denial of service will not compromise student performance on the test or any personal student data.
Despite these issues, in the first week of the two-week testing window, a total of 397,352 students completed the computer-based writing component, which represents more than 60 percent of students registered to take the test.