Concerns Arise Over State's Use Of Same Tests Two Years in a Row

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Wisconsin officials administered exactly the same proficiency tests to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders this year as the ones they used last year, prompting concern among some educators about test security and validity.

The state education department says the reuse of the same form of the tests was the result of unusual circumstances and will not happen again. But some educators around the state expressed concern, and the office of Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican who is often at odds with the department, criticized the move.

Although it is a different cohort of students taking the tests, some observers say the reuse of the tests could present security issues or could lead to "score creep," in which test results may not accurately reflect the proficiency of test-takers.

The state uses CTB/McGraw-Hill's TerraNova Form B assessments—off-the-shelf tests published by one of the nation's three largest commercial test publishers—as the basis for its Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination program.

H. Gary Cook, the director of the education department's office of educational accountability, said the state used TerraNova Form A in 1998 and Form B in 1999. The department had hoped that CTB, based in Monterey, Calif., would have a new version of the TerraNova tests available for this year. But the test publisher was focusing its development efforts on a new edition of another of its products, the California Achievement Test, Mr. Cook said.

The department also explored having CTB write a customized assessment for Wisconsin, but that option was deemed too expensive, he said. Most states now contract with test publishers for customized tests instead of standard offerings.

Not Ideal

So Wisconsin was left with nothing but TerraNova Form B to use this year because the department had already given local districts permission to use Form A of the test for their own assessments, Mr. Cook said.

"It's not the ideal situation to be in, but it's the situation we are in," he said.

Kevin Keane, an aide to Gov. Thompson, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper earlier this month that the reuse of the tests was "a bad mistake" by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. He did not return phone calls seeking further comment last week.

Kay Mantilla, the director of research and assessment for the Milwaukee public schools, said she was not happy about the reuse of the TerraNova tests. "I prefer to see a different form used, with a two- or three-year cycle," she said.

But both Mr. Cook and Ms. Mantilla said districts tend to reuse the same forms of off-the-shelf tests in their own assessment programs. The concern for the state testing program is that, in theory, some teachers or school administrators, knowing the same questions would be used two years in a row, could teach to those questions.

In a letter to district officials last month, Mr. Cook said: "The reuse of an examination is not an uncommon practice. Many states and jurisdictions use the same exam form year after year. That is not the intent for the WKCE. Unfortunately, this year we have only one available form."

In an interview last week, Mr. Cook said he was "not thrilled" by the tests' reuse, but doubted that scores would be affected. "However, it is the appearance of evil that can get you," he added.

Michael H. Kean, the vice president for public and governmental affairs at CTB/McGraw-Hill, said it was important to remember that most test-takers were not exposed to the tests before.

"We're talking about using the same test twice, and only twice, not seven years in a row or anything," he said. "Score creep is unlikely to occur in just two years."

Vol. 19, Issue 27, Page 17

Published in Print: March 15, 2000, as Concerns Arise Over State's Use Of Same Tests Two Years in a Row
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