California Problems Intensify

K-12 Testing

Only 34 percent of ninth graders passed the new California high school graduation test administered last spring. Theirs is the first class facing denial of a diploma for not passing the test. Legislation now awaiting Governor Gray Davis’ signature would allow the State Board to postpone the graduation requirement if a study finds the test is not adequately assessing to the state’s standards. As is true in other states, scores on the exit exam correlate strongly with income: low-income children are particularly at risk of not passing.


Meanwhile, scoring errors on the Stanford Achievement Test, Ninth Edition (SAT9) the primary state test, caused by contractor Harcourt Educational Measurement, led the state to distribute $750,000 in score improvement awards to ineligible schools. Staff in 16 schools scheduled to receive bonuses ranging from $5000 to $25,000 will not receive checks after being told they would. Individuals who inaccurately received smaller bonuses last spring will not have to return the money. The awards are determined solely by gains on the SAT9.


Though the loss of money was seen as a blow to morale, one superintendent pointed out that the reward system was itself causing problems: “[P]eople in one part of our district are working hard and have students that test well, while teachers in another part of our district are also working hard and have students that don’t test as well. It was causing some morale difficulties.”


Harcourt has had numerous scoring problems with the California test in the past and has paid more than one million dollars in penalties for its errors (see Examiner, Fall 1999).