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Connecticut Fires Testing Contractor

By Robert A. Frahm

State education officials have dumped a school testing contractor, canceling a $48 million contract with a company that ran into numerous delays and scoring problems a year ago on the Connecticut Mastery Test.

Just two years into its seven-year contract, California-based CTB/McGraw-Hill will end its work on the annual exam, the state's chief measure of educational progress for elementary and middle school students.

"There has to be a reasonable working relationship on both sides, and that working relationship was increasingly tense," said state Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, who sent letters to state school superintendents Monday announcing the hiring of a new contractor.

To replace CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state has signed a five-year, $45.5 million contract with Measurement Inc., a North Carolina firm that has a long history of scoring writing tests for Connecticut. When CTB/McGraw-Hill ran into the scoring problems last year, it hired Measurement Inc. as a subcontractor to help score the tests.

The scoring problems were the worst in the 20-year history of the mastery test and delayed last year's annual report card on public schools until late June, a five-month delay that left no time for educators to adjust lessons, monitor individual students or classes or assign children to tutorial programs and summer school.

Aside from those problems, the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left Behind Act put unanticipated demands on the testing program, such as the creation of new tests for disabled students. In addition, state officials wanted to explore new kinds of exams, including more frequent classroom assessments and online testing - issues that were not addressed in the original contract.

"The scope of the [mastery test] program really expanded from the time we signed the contract," said Kelley Carpenter, a spokeswoman for CTB/McGraw-Hill. Both she and Sternberg described the termination as a mutual agreement.

The termination comes in the midst of a major expansion of Connecticut's testing program to comply with No Child Left Behind. Sternberg says the expansion is both expensive and unnecessary, but federal officials insist the state must test all children in grades three through eight. Until now, the test has been given only to children in grades four, six and eight.

Last month, Connecticut became the first state to go to court challenging No Child Left Behind, contending the additional tests will unfairly cost state and local taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sternberg and other officials grew increasingly dissatisfied with CTB/McGraw-Hill when the scores on the written questions showed large inconsistencies with scores from previous years. When a second scoring still was unsatisfactory, some parts of the test were scored a third time.

The scoring problems occurred only on questions that required students to give written answers, not on the more straightforward multiple-choice questions.

Some educators, including Sternberg, believe the problems were a symptom of a testing industry stretched thin by the vast expansion of testing nationwide under the No Child Left Behind Act. Only a handful of companies handle statewide school testing.

Carpenter said she does not believe the industry lacks the capacity to handle the load. CTB/McGraw-Hill holds 23 state testing contracts, the largest number among major test contractors, she said.

— Robert A. Frahm
Hartford Courant


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