Cyberattacks disrupt SOLs

Published 10:08 pm Friday, May 22, 2015

A cyberattack against a company contracted with Virginia to administer state standardized tests caused disruptions for some Suffolk students taking Standards of Learning exams Wednesday — but the good news is they won’t have to retake the tests.

According to school district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, a network signal disruption impacted various grade levels in elementary and middle schools Wednesday morning.

Tests being administered at the time included Grade 3 Reading (Part I), Grade 5 Reading, Grade 6 Reading, Grade 7 Reading and Grade 8 Science, Bradshaw wrote in an email.

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No retests were warranted, according to Bradshaw, for several reasons:

Some students were delayed in being able to log on to the network, but before they started the test.

Some students were unable to submit their completed test for scoring, but all completed tests could be submitted when the network connection was restored.

“Some students who were actually taking the online test were not impacted at all because of the test caching process, whereby the test is stored in the network’s memory cache,” Bradshaw explained.

Laura Gamble, a spokeswoman for the company, Pearson, said in an email an initial cyberattack occurred May 13, causing “intermittent disruptions due to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.”

“This malicious, third party attack was a deliberate attempt to overload and slow down system traffic,” she said.

The next day, she added, there was a disruption of service when a server reached its capacity.

Wednesday’s was a “new form of cyberattack,” according to Gamble. The company worked fast to resolve it, she added, but “unfortunately testing was disrupted for students.”

“Intermittent disruptions” began in the morning and, for some testing sessions, continued into the afternoon, she said.

“We have tuned our systems to handle this new attack and are continually monitoring for other new forms of attack should they arrive, “ Gamble added. “We are continuously working to improve our testing systems.”

The company understands the frustration the issues can cause for students, parents and educators, Gamble stated.

“Our goal is to ensure students have a smooth testing experience, and we apologize for any inconvenience the disruption may have caused.”