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Foreseeing Errors in Test Industry

By David J. Hoff — February 28, 2006 1 min read
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Connecticut’s top education official predicted two years ago that the testing industry would struggle to meet the demands brought on by new federal mandates for test-based accountability. Last month, her prediction came to pass—in her own state, no less.

Harcourt Assessment Inc., which administers Connecticut’s criterion-referenced tests, told state officials that it had reported incorrect scores for 355 Connecticut high school students. While the revised scores won’t change any school’s status under federal No Child Left Behind Act rules, they will force local officials to re-evaluate whether those students will be eligible to graduate, state officials said.

“This situation is inexcusable,” Betty J. Sternberg, the state education commissioner, said in a Feb. 17 statement.

Because of the errors, the state will withhold $80,000 of the $2.8 million it pays Harcourt to administer the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, said Henry Garcia, a spokesman for the state education agency.

He acknowledged that the errors on the scores of 355 of the 44,000 students who took the test constituted a small percentage, but said that “we want our scores to be accurate.”

Ms. Sternberg predicted in 2004 that mistakes by testing companies would escalate after a different company provided inaccurate test-score data to the the state. (“Connecticut Tests Delayed By Scoring Glitches,” Feb. 11, 2004.)

At the time, Ms. Sternberg warned that the problem would only get worse once the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind Act was fully implemented this school year. That law requires states to assess student achievement in grades 3-8, and once in high school, in reading and mathematics.

Now that the law’s testing requirements are in place, reports of testing companies’ errors are bound to be commonplace, Ms. Sternberg warned last week. “I continue to question whether testing every student every year in every state in seven grades is simply too overwhelming,” she said in a statement. Connecticut is suing the U.S. Department of Education, saying the NCLB law is an unfunded mandate.

For its part, Harcourt has created a new set of audits to verify all results before they are released, said Richard Blake, a spokesman for the San Antonio-based division of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, an Anglo-Dutch publishing company.

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week

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