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The State Says It Will Review Its Deal With Test-Maker Harcourt

Ohanian Comment: A point that is rarely made is that when students encounter a mistake on the test, it can affect "the students' confidence and concentration as they took the test."

WAILUKU >> Officials from the company conducting academic assessments of about 55,000 Hawaii public school students apologized yesterday for committing 45 errors in its tests, but said there is no need to retest any children.

"We believe the test results will be absolutely valid," John Tanner, vice president of testing services for Texas-based Harcourt Assessment Inc., told the state Board of Education yesterday.

State Education Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said her department will review its deal with Harcourt and look at ways to renegotiate the contract, including the payment of penalties.

Tanner said his firm has agreed to discuss sanctions and penalties but had no idea how much.

"It will be cost plus some kind of penalty," he said.

Tanner said only one of the 45 errors involved a question applied in assessing students.

He said most of the mistakes involved "confusing and poorly written" instructions and new questions that were being field-tested in the assessment but not included in the score.

Tanner said the errors occurred because the company's quality-assurance steps were skipped. He said steps have been added to assure the quality of the firm's tests.

Scores on the Hawaii State Assessment do not affect a child's grades or promotion to the next grade. However, they are important to schools since they are used in determining whether a school faces sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Hamamoto said she expects challenges to the test from some schools that do not meet the federal benchmark.

Selvin Chin-Chance, head of the department's test development section, said school officials will receive the test results on Aug. 1.

Asked what the significance was of the 45 mistakes, even though only one was an actual question used in scoring the test, Chin-Chance said, "It's still a significant series of errors."

Harcourt testing expert Tracy Gardner said the one error involving an assessment question occurred in the mathematics section for third-graders. She said a graph that was supposed to be used in answering the question was printed too lightly for students to use.

During the Hawaii State Assessment this spring, teachers and test coordinators found several errors, such as missing pages and mistakes in instructions. They also found that sample questions given to some students had incorrect answers, possibly affecting the students' confidence and concentration as they took the test.

Students in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 took the test in math, reading and writing in March and April, and some students in grades 4, 6 and 7 took new tests that are being evaluated for next year.

Harcourt Assessment developed the tests as part of a five-year, $20 million contract with the state.

— Gary T. Kubota
Star Bulletin


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