OKLAHOMANS could know as early as this week how much the state will penalize the standardized testing company for its role in significant problems related to the spring 2013 testing period.
State Education Department officials are negotiating with CTB/McGraw-Hill on damages. We don't know the amount being sought. Indiana, which documented similar problems, has said it expects minimum penalties in the neighborhood of $600,000, with the high end potentially extending into the millions.
No amount of money can make up for the stress that students (and their teachers) felt as they tried repeatedly to complete the required tests despite technology-related issues. This was serious because high school students must pass a certain number of tests to graduate; pressure builds for months as test day approaches.
We understand the official reason the state gave for not giving details. It's not unusual for negotiations to remain hush-hush. But the perception is a problem, particularly given the differing approach in Indiana. It has the feel of trying to shield a poor-performing company from adverse publicity. Problem is, there was no shield for the students and educators affected by the testing company's apparent failures.
The testing breakdown has become one more distraction for an education system that desperately needs to focus time, attention and resources on core academic issues. And let's not forget that the issue of damages — which should be substantial — won't answer lingering questions about the validity of the scores. The validity question should perhaps be determined before deciding on financial and other potential penalties to the company.
It was a misstep for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi to place some of the blame on school districts. That was inconsistent with previous comments about the problems. And it was no secret that Indiana experienced similar difficulties.
The fallout from the testing problems simply has to run its course. This can't happen soon enough. A significant debate is happening in Oklahoma and throughout the country about testing, school accountability and academic standards. Too often in recent years, these important discussions have been overshadowed by egos, political rhetoric and poor communication.
Education in Oklahoma is polarized. There's plenty of blame to go around, and it's agonizing to think how much worse it could get before next year's general election comes to a close. No one is satisfied with the overall academic performance of Oklahoma's students. We'd be hard-pressed to give a passing grade in the area of cooperation to any of the adult parties involved.
The unprecedented pace of reforms hitting schools, along with tight budgets, make it a tough time to be in education, whether you're a policymaker, teacher, student or parent. But if Oklahoma's education system is to ever reach its full potential, widespread cooperation is essential.
By all means, the state should seek significant compensation from a company that clearly didn't live up to its end of a hefty contract. It's the responsible thing to do on behalf of taxpayers. It would be a bonus if such an agreement would likewise send a message to students and educators that their frustrations aren't forgotten.