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Alaska Cancels School Tests After a Fiber Optic Cable Was Cut in Kansas

Someone ran it over with a backhoe.
Construction workers in New York. Photo: Roger Tully/Getty Images

In Alaska, students get to skip their computer-based standardized tests for the rest of the school year, thanks to a construction worker who severed a fiber optic cable in Kansas.

On the afternoon of March 29, a worker at the University of Kansas accidentally damaged a large fiber optic cable around campus, apparently running it over with a backhoe. The university in Lawrence is home to the Achievement & Assessment Institute, which offers large-scale tests to clients including the public schools of Alaska.

Meanwhile, in Alaska—about a 60-hour drive away if you did it in a single shot, according to Google Maps—computer-based testing was cut short by the outage. It resumed a couple of days later, but the connection was spotty, and some students' results were lost.

So Alaska has decided to scrap the testing altogether for the rest of term, cancelling assessments in English language arts and math for grades 3-10; alternate assessments for students with cognitive disabilities; and science tests in grades 4, 8, and 10.

"The purpose of assessment is to provide valid, useful results," Susan McCauley, Alaska's interim commissioner of education and early development, said in a statement. "To have valid results, all students must be given the test under the same conditions. At this point, some students have been interrupted by online connectivity problems," which means testing results can't be trusted. Students and faculty at the University of Kansas, meanwhile, had their own problems, with a major outage across campus that lasted for days.

Fiber optic cables are the backbones of the internet, but they're surprisingly vulnerable to all kinds of stuff: natural disasters, ship anchors and fishing trawlers (when they're underwater, that is). Even an errant backhoe can ding one up, derailing plans thousands of miles away.