Saturday, April 23, 2005

DOE seeks new firm for school testing

DOE seeks new firm for school testing

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Education Writer

A series of public-school testing mix-ups has prompted the Department of Education to seek a new deal with a test development company other than Harcourt Assessment Inc., which has contracted with the state for about the past 30 years.

The decision not to extend Harcourt's $22.1 million, four-year contract for providing and scoring standardized tests came after officials discovered that materials provided by the company included errors for the second straight year.

Some materials were also delivered to the wrong schools, and other schools received materials that were incomplete, the department said.

"This series of errors has thrown our testing program into virtual chaos and places the department at risk under the federal No Child Left Behind Act," schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said in a letter to Harcourt. "It is difficult for schools to see Harcourt as a credible provider, and therefore, the department is unable to justify using Harcourt's services."

Harcourt's contract requires it to develop, administer and score next year's Hawai'i State Assessment and a new science assessment. The deal will be terminated after that, Hamamoto said.

Harcourt spokesman Mark Slitt said this year's materials contained a single error in the test portion presented to students, and that the company regretted the mistake. "This year that was one live test item that was flawed," he said. "There was a seventh-grade math item that had a flaw, despite our best efforts of checking and rechecking. And so that particular item will not be counted, and no students will be adversely affected. It's not going to count against their score in any way, and it does not undermine the overall validity of the test."

The delivery problems were caused by glitches in a new warehouse system and subcontractors that did not deliver according to schedule, Slitt said.

Last year, Harcourt acknowledged at least 45 flaws on reading and math tests taken by thousands of Hawai'i students, including an actual test question.

"Any flaw is one flaw too many, however, and we recognize that we're not perfect," Slitt said. "We're striving for perfection. Through all the hard work that we've put in improving our quality-control processes and putting in additional checks and cross-checks, we've reduced substantially the number of defects from last year."

But Hamamoto said the company's services overall were "significantly worse this year than in previous years."

"Given the deterioration in the quality of the services ... the department has no choice but to seek another contractor for our statewide student assessment program," Hamamoto wrote.

Slitt said Harcourt provides standardized testing materials in about 20 states, and intends to bid on Hawai'i's new contract when it is made available.

Reach Johnny Brannon at or 525-8084.

originally published April 19, 2005