DOE should check testing companies’ track records
A MECHANICAL "glitch"
Blank booklets for public school students' exams were mistakenly scored by a contractor.
that somehow recorded answers on blank booklets for key tests taken by thousands of Hawaii public school students has cast another shadow on the exams that already have been criticized.
At this stage, the number of booklets that might have been involved in the mix-up doesn't seem significant, but education officials should adjust the data, if necessary, to reflect results accurately. Since the tests are new and scores will be used for comparisons on student progress, tallies must be clean.
Sharp-eyed teachers who noticed that scores were given for students they knew did not take the tests brought the problem to the Department of Education's attention. At least 1,682 of about 98,000 booklets for the yearly Hawaii State Assessment Test apparently were scanned and scored despite being blank. All unused booklets are returned to the testing company as a matter of security, but a contractor for American Institutes for Research, the company newly hired to administer the exams, erroneously counted them, too.
Because the blank booklets made up just 1.7 percent of the total, department officials don't believe the mistakes were enough to alter the standings of schools that reached progress benchmarks. But the problem added to questions about the new tests that were used for the first time this year and that resulted in more than 64 percent of schools achieving goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law, where in the previous year only 35 percent did.
The dramatic improvement had some Board of Education members suspecting that the new tests were made easier and criticizing the department for making comparisons they felt were invalid. However, unless a review, which the testing company will do without charge before year's end, turns up evidence that scores were tainted, there appears to be no reason for further concern.
American Institutes for Research will be changing contractors for the next round of exams but the department should make sure the new outfit has a good track record. Having had to discharge American Institutes' predecessor for operational problems, the state can ill afford another restart.
No Child Left Behind, passed in 2002, hatched a testing industry eager for government dollars and many companies have yet to prove reliable. As Congress is set to reauthorize the law this year, it also should be looking for ways to stabilize the industry.
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