STATE schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and Department of Education staff have negotiated a $1.2 million settlement with CTB/McGraw-Hill in response to that vendor's failures, which disrupted standardized testing at schools this spring.
The settlement is three times the amount allowed under the contract's provisions. It includes a $376,205 cash payment and $860,000 in donated services.
Indiana, which experienced similar problems with CTB, is reportedly seeking around $7.68 per affected student. Oklahoma's cash settlement alone equals $41.34 per affected student. When donated services are included, Oklahoma's settlement averages nearly $136 apiece.
Oklahoma clearly got its pound of flesh. The settlement shows Barresi and agency officials took this issue seriously. Now if only Barresi's critics would do the same.
Throughout the process, these critics appeared outraged not that CTB's server crash disrupted testing, but that the state insists on measuring student performance at all. Their comments seemed designed to derail education measurement, not ensure its accuracy. For example, when Barresi recently noted that CTB was clearly to blame for testing problems on the two days the company's servers crashed, but said problems on other days were often related to technological challenges at the district level, some superintendents howled.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association said Barresi was blaming schools for CTB's failures. That was a dishonest attack clearly refuted by Barresi's numerous public comments criticizing CTB. But that didn't stop OSSBA. Instead, many of the same administrators who insist Oklahoma schools are being financially “starved” suddenly acted as though every school is a Mecca of cutting-edge, 21st-century technology. Well, which is it?
In reality, an Oklahoma Department of Education survey found only 33 percent of state school sites are technologically prepared for online testing. Some schools' bandwidth is much closer to dial-up speed than not. In response, Barresi announced future assessment tests will include a pencil-and-paper option to prevent technological challenges from disrupting the process.
The agency's settlement with CTB requires the testing vendor to spend $125,000 conducting a technology readiness assessment of all Oklahoma school districts. This study will review bandwidth, the number of work stations and the server configuration; perform online stress tests at every site; and deploy implementation services at all sites. This will help address technology deficiencies — and it won't cost schools one dime.
The settlement also requires CTB to pay for an independent study evaluating the impact of this spring's disruptions on student test scores, addressing another major concern. Whatever profit CTB was poised to make off its Oklahoma contract will be significantly depleted by the settlement. This is as it should be.
Although similar problems occurred in other states, including states using other vendors, Oklahomans deserve better. Barresi and her staff are making CTB live up to its promises — or pay the price.
Given that local school officials may not be eager to publicly identify failure, accurate state measurement of student progress is critical. Barresi and Department of Education officials are doing much to make valid assessments feasible in spite of technological challenges and narrow-minded opposition. They deserve thanks.
As for critics blowing spit wads from the peanut gallery, here's a question: If school administrators believe in the importance of high expectations and consequences when evaluating a testing vendor's performance, shouldn't the same standard apply to evaluating the administrators' own handiwork?