School testing settlement shows issue was taken seriously

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: July 30, 2013
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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.

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