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NCLB Outrages

McGraw-Hill Delay in Connecticut May Be a Sign of Test Woes to Come

Ohanian Comment: McGraw-Hill admits they weren't prepared to correct written responses. Apparently they do a better with multiple choice answers.

The State Board of Education chairman apologized Wednesday for long delays in statewide test reports and pledged to get Connecticut's multimillion-dollar school testing program back on track.

The results of this year's Connecticut Mastery Test, already three months late, now will be delayed longer because of concerns that a new testing company has been unable to score the exam accurately.

Some educators fear the problems, the worst in the 19-year history of the mastery test, could undermine confidence in the testing program, long regarded as one of the best in the nation.

The state had promised a full report on scores by June 4 but now has pushed back the deadline to June 15.

"I want to issue an apology to all who have been adversely affected by this," said Craig Toensing, chairman of the State Board of Education. "We're working long and hard and are going to try to not let it happen again, and we are sorry."

California-based CTB/McGraw-Hill was hired last year under a seven-year, $48 million contract, but the company told state officials recently it "misjudged the complexity and sophistication of the [test]," Toensing said.

The problem occurred only on questions that required students to give written answers, not on the more straightforward multiple-choice questions.

About 125,000 fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders took the exam in September, but when the results came back last fall, scores on the written answers - not the multiple-choice answers - were markedly lower than scores from previous years.

Modest fluctuations in scores are common from year to year, but the large discrepancy prompted the state to postpone its customary January release of scores and ask CTB/McGraw-Hill to rescore the test. When a second scoring still produced inconsistencies, state officials asked for some parts of the test to be scored for a third time.

The stakes are high because the scores are used to determine whether public schools are meeting standards - and avoiding penalties - under President Bush's school reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, the delay hurts schools that adjust lessons, monitor performance of individual classes or students, or assign children to tutorial programs and summer school classes based on the scores.

Educators say the Connecticut problem could be a warning of more problems to come for a school testing industry that consists of a limited number of companies facing a vast expansion of testing under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Of all the things that could undermine No Child Left Behind, the sheer capacity to score tests accurately could be a very difficult stumbling block," said David Title, superintendent of schools in Bloomfield.

The state's hiring of CTB/McGraw-Hill last year ended a long relationship with Harcourt Assessment, a Texas company that had scored the mastery test since it was first given in 1985. In recent years, state officials had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Harcourt's work.

Across the nation, students have erroneously been placed in remedial classes or even denied high school diplomas because of test companies' mistakes - the kind of problems Connecticut officials hope to avoid. Still, the long delays could raise doubts about a test that has become a major influence on public schools.

"It's a good test, but how much do you believe?" said Lynda W. Green, assistant superintendent of schools in East Hartford. When earlier mastery test scores placed some schools on a warning list last year under the No Child Left Behind Act, some teachers were upset, she said.

Now, without the latest scores, "we can't even guess" whether schools have made sufficient gains to avoid penalties, she said. "They could be using a set of scores that are questionable to judge a whole school's progress."

— Robert A. Frahm
Mastery Test Problems Prompt Apology
Hartford Courant


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