Critics of state testing, often citing concern for students to mask their opposition to the accountability tests create, have tried to make hay of recent glitches. In April, education vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill Education's online system crashed, delaying testing for about 9,000 Oklahoma students. This led some critics to imply that the tests themselves were somehow faulty, or that state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi was somehow directly responsible. Neither conclusion is justified.
The contracting process involves significant outside review. The Department of Education first submits a requisition to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. A solicitation is created and posted on the OMES website and mailed to registered vendors. OMES then gets and initially reviews vendor proposals before sending them to the Department of Education for further evaluation. Eventually, Department of Education staffers recommend a vendor. The State Board of Education must then approve that recommendation, which is reviewed once again, by OMES, before authorization.
So no state superintendent can authorize a brother-in-law deal for any company. The real problem facing Oklahoma is that only a few vendors can handle the logistics of a statewide testing program; none of them has a spotless record. Oklahoma has used five testing companies in the past decade. One once printed incorrect answers to sample questions. Another was fired for significant delays in student test results. Another sent the wrong writing exams to 80,000 students. A fourth was responsible for data calculation errors. And now CTB/McGraw-Hill's servers crashed.
This is no reason to end state testing and associated measurement of Oklahoma's education progress. Instead, future contracts should include penalties so severe that noncompliant vendors pay Oklahoma to work for the state. Such market incentives can generate improvement. Barresi says CTB/ McGraw-Hill will face penalties.
That's a good place to start.