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NCLB Outrages

State Risks Millions Over Test

Siu-Runyan Comment: So why aren't the testing companies being held accountable like public schools? This is ridiculous to say the least. Get rid of the NCLB Act. This would solve the problem once and for all.

By Robert A. Frahm

Technical problems at a company that scores Connecticut's annual exam of high school sophomores are likely to cause the state to miss a U.S. government deadline for reporting test results, officials said Wednesday.

The problems could delay test scores until mid-September, too late to meet a deadline to notify schools of their performance status under the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

The statewide test is used to determine whether schools have made adequate progress under No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of President Bush's school reform agenda.

If the scores are not available by the start of the new school year, Connecticut could risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding, state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg said in a letter to Harcourt Assessment.

Such a delay, she wrote, "is absolutely unacceptable" and would be considered a breach of contract.

It is the second time this year that Harcourt has run into difficulty scoring the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, an exam given to all of the state's high school sophomores. The first problem surfaced in February, when the Texas-based company incorrectly reported scores for about 350 students, an error that prompted the state to fine Harcourt $80,000, the maximum annual penalty allowed under the contract.

Whether the state can impose another penalty is under review by lawyers at the state education department, Sternberg said.

Harcourt officials said that technical problems interrupted the process of scanning students' test papers into computers for review by scorers. The scanning is used on questions requiring handwritten answers, roughly one-third of the test.

"The issue has been corrected," Harcourt spokesman Rick Blake said Wednesday, describing the problem as "a networking issue that put us behind at least two weeks, possibly as much as four weeks. ...

"At this point our focus is on trying to get the job done as quickly as possible."

The latest problem is another sign of strain on an overburdened testing industry, Sternberg said.

Scoring problems have cropped up across the country. Only a year ago, Connecticut dumped another testing company that ran into numerous delays and scoring problems on a state test for elementary and middle school students. More recently, a test contractor reported erroneous scores for thousands of students who took the SAT college entrance exam last fall.

Some educators fear that the testing industry will be strained even further as Connecticut and other states undergo a broad expansion of testing under No Child Left Behind, which calls for a shake-up of schools that fail to meet standards.

"It's not a problem peculiar to Harcourt," Sternberg said. "Mis-scoring tests, having delays - there's no company that hasn't had something happen in those areas."

The issue has caught the attention of U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who met recently with testing industry executives about the industry's capacity to handle the growing volume of tests.

In a letter to Spellings, Sternberg outlined the latest problem with Harcourt and said she hoped Spellings' conversation with testing officials will highlight "the very serious implications that could emerge should the testing companies not be as prepared as originally thought."

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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