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Backup Systems Avert Loss of N.Y. Bar Exam EssaysBackup systems in software that malfunctioned last week for hundreds of students writing essays on the New York state bar examination appear to have prevented the loss of any test takers' answers, Douglas M. Winneg, president of Software Secure Inc. said Wednesday. Winneg apologized "for the issue and the frustrations candidates must have felt." Some recent takers of the Georgia bar exam, which also uses Software Secure software, also experienced problems uploading exam results, Winneg acknowledged.
New York Law Journal2007-08-03 12:00:00 AM
Backup systems in software that malfunctioned last week for hundreds of students writing essays on the New York state bar examination appear to have prevented the loss of any test takers' answers, the software company's president said Wednesday.
Douglas M. Winneg of Software Secure Inc. said in an interview that he believes the essay question answers uploaded from the computers of approximately 5,200 people who used laptops to take the bar exam last week have been accounted for. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company is in the process of transferring the computer data to another company, which will print the essays and transfer them to the state Board of Law Examiners for grading.
The board has promised that all students who took the test last week on a laptop will be notified when their essays have been located. The other half of the test takers wrote the essays in longhand.
Winneg, whose software has been used by the Board of Law Examiners since it started allowing test takers to use computers for the essay portion of the exam in 2003, said Wednesday there were outstanding test answers from about 100 people who did not upload their results to a Software Secure server. He said it is possible that those students took the bar exam not expecting to forward their answers for grading, or felt they did poorly and chose not to upload them.
In a message on Software Secure's Web site, Winneg apologized "for the issue and the frustrations candidates must have felt" last week.
"I know this made a tough exam more difficult," he wrote. "We are committed to improving our software to make it more reliable and easy to use by test takers."
Some recent takers of the Georgia bar exam, which also uses Software Secure software, also experienced problems uploading exam results, Winneg acknowledged.
Software Secure is contacting the 100 test takers by e-mail and is offering its assistance to get copies of the essays if they were not transmitted due to a technical problem. If there were other reasons for the delay, the students may run afoul of the Board of Law Examiners' rule that the test answers be uploaded within 48 hours of the test, Winneg said.
He also urged the takers of the outstanding tests to e-mail the company at firstname.lastname@example.org or to call 800-985-8868 if they need assistance.
The executive director of the Board of Law Examiners, John McAlary, said the board is also reviewing the list of 100 test takers who did not send in answers. McAlary said that number will drop because the board is finding in an inventory of handwritten essays by some who planned to file through their laptop, but because of computer problems or other reasons, submitted written essays.
The electronic problems arose on July 24, the first day of the two-day test taken by nearly 11,000 students. In addition to administering the exam to the most candidates ever, a record number of test takers used laptops to type out answers to the six essay questions on the state phase of the exam.
Answer sheets to the multiple choice questions, and on the all-multiple choice Multistate Bar Examination on July 25, were handwritten.
In many cases, students entered their essays on the computer, then complained they could not find them or any evidence that the material had been saved.
Winneg said backups were saving the essays, even when students could not find the work on their computers.
Company experts have determined that the "Securexam" software malfunctioned when students toggled between answer tabs on their screens, Winneg said.
"We have identified the process by which this problem occurred; we have identified what buttons pressed caused the problems," Winneg said. "At this point, we are not sure what the underlying cause is."
He said fewer than 10 percent of the students had problems with the software to the extent that they believed answers might have been lost.
The software program allowed students to enter their essays on the laptop but not to revise them past the time allotted. The software also blocked access to the Internet or to other information.
Winneg said Software Secure systems are used by more than 1 million takers of "high-stakes" higher education tests every year without difficulty. In addition to New York and Georgia, New Jersey and Kentucky use Software Secure systems for their bar exams.
'A VOLUME ISSUE'
Diane F. Bosse, chairwoman of the New York Board of Law Examiners, confirmed that it appears all essay answers have been salvaged.
"We are advised that no problems have been detected," she said Wednesday.
The next step will be printing the essays and having them packaged with students' other answer sheets. The packages will be passed along to the 42 people the board uses to grade the exams, Bosse said.
"This is a volume issue," she said. "We have to get all of those essay answers printed and collated. We are talking weeks here."
Results for the July bar exams will not be announced until mid-November as in past years.
Students using laptops for last week's test paid $70 to download the software in addition to the normal $250 fee to take the exam.