Testing Errors Continue

K-12 Testing

Georgia is the first state financially penalized by the federal government for failing to comply with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). For two years, the state has been trying to develop and launch end-of-course testing it had promised to comply with the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA. But concerns about the tests’ alignment with the state curriculum and requirements of the latest version of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind act, led to postponement of testing.


The state had been working under a two-year federal waiver since the original deadline passed. Provisions of ESEA prevent further delays. In announcing a penalty of $783,000, or one-fourth of the state’s administrative funds, Education Secretary Rod Paige claimed, “By not administering these end-of-course assessments this school year, Georgia has violated the terms of its timeline waiver.”


State Superintendent Kathy Cox said Georgia contests the federal action, noting, “They do not need to interpret that timeline waiver as they are.”


Meanwhile, problems were found with Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). A printing error caused test questions not to line up with answer bubbles. Despite complaints, the state doesn’t anticipate invalidating the results. An independent auditor who reviewed the errors assured state officials that the tests could be scored accurately.


A separate error led to actual test items being posted on the internet along with practice exams. Tests for first, second, third, fifth and seventh grades were cancelled after many publicly disclosed practice questions reappeared on the actual exams.


Alaska officials are proposing scoring changes for the statewide Benchmark Exam eighth grade math test. In each of the four years the tests have been administered, students have scored lower on the eighth-grade test than they have on the sixth or tenth grade exams. “The eighth grade was out of whack, it was just out of sync with the other scores,” explained Department of Education spokesman Harry Gamble. The department is looking at lowering the cut-score for math and for writing but raising the cut score for reading, where eighth graders have scored higher than expected. With the change, 64 percent of students would have passed the math test in March rather then the 39 percent reported to have done so. A private testing company wrote the exam, but different committees of department officials determined the passing scores for each grade level. The committees did not communicate, so inconsistent standards were used across different grades.


Arkansas legislative leaders are questioning why the state Department of Education extended its contract with a testing company that has repeatedly produced late scores and questionable results. Questar was due to deliver the results for last year’s test in early August. In late September, the company delivered results reporting only 4 percent of fourth-graders scored at proficient levels compared with 43 percent on the previous year’s exam. After re-tabulating scores at the state’s request, Questar found 65 percent of fourth graders were proficient.


Broward County School Board members are calling for an investigation into Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores at Sunderland Park Elementary School for 2001-02 after wild annual score swings were noted. Principal Shirley McCray was promoted to head a brand-new school following Sunderland’s strong FCAT scores. This year, with a new principal in place, Sunderland’s results plunged from 41 percent reading at grade level to 31 percent, and from 57 percent making reading gains to 38 percent. A newspaper investigation revealed a great disparity between FCAT results and results from a national norm-referenced exam administered within a few weeks. New principal Michael Reid claimed he noticed upon arriving that his students’ reading ability was closer to the lower national scores. District Superintendent Frank Till said that test tampering or a scoring error could be to blame, but an investigation would be too difficult.


School board member Stephanie Kraft asked, “How can the Superintendent let this go? We need to deal with this now and find out what happened.”


Meanwhile, Department of Education investigations are under way in two Miami-Dade schools. One school’s state ranking jumped to an “A” after four years at or below “D.” At another, an unlikely number of students posted very high scores following years of lower performance.