This is Only a Test
Once again, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is having some difficulty with the testing process. Yesterday, superintendents and district testing coordinators received an email stating that the 5th and 8th grade writing tests – usually administered in February – would be pushed back to April this year. This is problematic on a number of levels, but I want to key in on one bullet point in particular:
The February Writing Test has been delayed until Spring testing in April. Due to some administrative challenges, the SDE has placed the Grades 3-8 contract back out to bid.
Some administrative challenges? What does that even mean? Did CTB-McGraw Hill pull out after the fact? Did another vendor protest the contract? Did the Office of State Finance find an irregularity in the selection process?
This continues a pattern of inconsistency and poor communication of the testing process dating back almost two years. Throughout the spring 2011 testing cycle, school districts all around Oklahoma were struggling with Pearson – which at the time held all testing contracts for the state – to get student data pre-coded correctly into their files. As a result, batch after batch of test data came back incorrect during that summer. The SDE was not able to release test data to schools until October that year. Then, for some unknown reason, it took them another six months to issue the NCLB report cards.
During the 2011-12 school year, agency staff were falling all over themselves to assign blame to Pearson. From all indications, they deserved it. However, the lag between data being finalized and the ultimate issuance of federal accountability report cards was entirely the fault of the SDE. Yes they were shorthanded, but it was their choice to run off key personnel who were more equipped to calculate schools’ and districts’ API scores.
This summer, a new testing company was announced for the End of Instruction Tests: CTB-McGraw Hill. The big bonus was that they would be developing benchmark testing that schools could use for free (read: the cost is actually factored into your bid, Oklahoma). Those tests would come online this fall. Then they wouldn’t – the reason being that the SDE had also awarded CTB-McGraw Hill the testing contract for 3-8. Now they would be preparing benchmark tests for all tests (except social studies and science). So the roll out of these benchmarks would be in January. Maybe. Not to worry though, there will be more benchmarks later. Next year. Probably.
And now, due to some administrative challenges, the contract for 3-8 grade testing is going back out to bid.
Isn’t accountability the cornerstone of education reform? Aren’t these tests supposed to tell us everything we need to know about our students, teachers, and schools? If so, a clear plan and straight story would be a refreshing change. Remember the SDE’s budget request that would raise spending on assessment from $11 million to $16 million?
Not worth it.