Published Online: April 28, 2004
Published in Print: April 28, 2004, as Testing

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Wrong Answers

When Harcourt Assessment officials discovered errors in test booklets the company had distributed in Oklahoma, they breathed a sigh of relief after discovering that the mistakes wouldn’t affect test results.

Shortly before Oklahoma schools started administering the state tests this month, school officials found that test booklets listed the wrong answers on four sample questions.

On the 5th grade science test, for one, the example of the type of question students would be asked instructed students to read a bar graph and answer which substance had the greatest density.

The original booklet said the answer was "mercury," when in fact it should have said "diamond," according to corrections that Harcourt Assessment distributed to Oklahoma educators four days before testing began.

"There was confusion because it said one thing in the teacher manuals," but it was obvious that the manual prompted the proctor to cite the wrong answer, said Mark Slitt, a spokesman for the San Antonio-based publisher.

The same kind of error occurred for two other 5th grade science questions, an 8th grade math problem, and an 8th grade science question, according to the errata distributed by Harcourt Assessment, a subsidiary of Harcourt Inc., based in New York City.

Educators alerted the publisher to the mistakes before testing began April 12, and Harcourt distributed corrections four days ahead of the exams.

Harcourt officials are investigating how the mistakes happened, Mr. Slitt said. "We regret this," he added. "It’s something we’re looking at to make sure it doesn’t happen again."

Harcourt Assessment also had to issue minor corrections to information sent home to parents, he said.

This year, the test publisher is administering tests in math, reading, science, and social studies tied to Oklahoma’s standards for 5th and 8th grades. It is also field-testing exams for 3rd and 4th graders in reading and math in preparation for the new tests to be given next year.

Oklahoma Department of Education officials declined to comment on the errors.

Test-makers have had to fix problems in state exams in the past. Harcourt won’t have to take any of those steps.

"It’s an embarrassment to us," Mr. Slitt said. "We’re thankful it didn’t have an impact on test results."

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 33, Page 12

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