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Despite Goofs, Nevada Gives Harcourt New Contract

Ohanian Comment: Apparently, telling 736 they failed a test doesn't count as "unsatisfactory" performance. Who pocketed the $425,000 fine? Maybe it should have gone to the 736.

CARSON CITY -- A national educational testing company that was roundly criticized for mistakes in grading proficiency exams of more than 700 Nevada high school students has been given an $18 million extension on its contracts.

The state Board of Examiners Tuesday approved contracts for Harcourt Educational Measurement to continue developing and grading tests for Nevada's elementary and high school students.

The Harcourt contracts are with the state Board of Education, which levied a $425,000 fine against the company that mistakenly informed 736 high school sophomores and juniors they had failed the high school proficiency math test given in April 2002.

Jack McLaughlin, state superintendent of public instruction, said the state board voted at its June meeting to renew the contracts. He said Tuesday that Harcourt had performed "satisfactorily" since the foul-up last year.

A team evaluated Harcourt's performance and asked the opinions of school districts.

"There have been no major deficiencies," he said. There have been some minor mistakes, he said, such as delivering tests to the wrong school.

The contract extension includes $13.2 million for developing and administering examinations in grades 3-8 and at the high school level to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Sixty percent of the money comes from the federal government and 40 percent from the state.

Another $5.1 million is for other examinations required by the state and the federal act, all paid by the state.

Karlene McCormick-Lee, assistant superintendent of research and accountability for the Clark County School District, said she hoped the state planned to keep a close eye on Harcourt now that the contract had been extended.

"There needs to be a system of checks and balances to make sure Harcourt is meeting the high standards," McCormick-Lee said Tuesday. "They've gotten better in the last year in terms of meeting timelines and the quality of the data, but the contract is for a considerable sum and there's a considerable amount of work still to be done."

The Education Department in January 2002 initially wanted to sign a six-year contract but agreed to an 18-month period to July 2003 to determine if the contractor performed satisfactorily.

State Purchasing Administrator Greg Smith told the examiners board that there were five or six bids in January 2002. He said if the contracts were put out to bid again, the prices would only be higher.

In explaining the lateness of the approval, Paul LaMarca, head of the state's testing program, said the Legislature didn't pass the agency's budget until the last week in May. Changes to the state's testing program were not approved until June 12, he said.

— Cy Ryan
Testing company that botched exams is given new contracts
Las Vegas Sun
August 13, 2003


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