In IL, another vendor is fired over online testing

Contractors are buckling under the strain of No Child Left Behind's stringent reporting requirements. Federal Education Department says it's states' problem.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

There are just a handful of testing companies that serve all of the nation's schools, and the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act are overtaxing the companies, reports the Associated Press.

The most recent casualty is in Illinois, where testing contractor Harcourt Assessment, lost most of its $44.5 million state contract over shipping problems, missed test pages and scoring errors. The delays made Illinois the last state in the nation to release scores used to judge schools under No Child Left Behind.

"The testing industry in the U.S. is buckling under the weight of NCLB demands," said Thomas Toch, co-director of Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank.

Oregon's Education Department also fired its online testing service for intermittent service and testing delays and had to test with paper and pencil this year.

Connecticut last year fined Harcourt $80,000 after a processing error caused wrong scores for 355 students in 2005. And nearly a third of all districts reported that some of their students got the wrong scores.

The list of of problems and delays goes on. NCLB has strict deadline requirements that schools must meet, so delays are deleterious. And the tests are customized to the state standards making the process more cumbersome.

"Not only (have) states wanted different content in terms of the tests, but they also have very many different requirements as to logistics, delivery, look and feel, color, how the questions are organized, horizontal, vertical ... you name it, it was on the table," Hansen said.

The U.S. Department of Education must be more active in terms of regulating the few companies that deliver the tests.

"Instead, Secretary (Margaret) Spellings has largely washed her hands of this problem, said it's a state problem, which is a peculiar ... response because it's the federal government that has required the states to take these actions," Toch said.
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