To motivate juniors on last year’s assessment exams, central
Critics pounced on Harcourt Assessment Inc., which lost most of its $44.5 million state contract over delays that made
But experts say the problems are more widespread and are likely to get worse. A handful of companies create, print, and score most of the tests in the
"The testing industry in the
When Education Sector surveyed 23 states in 2006, it found 35 percent of testing offices in those states had experienced "significant" errors with scoring, and 20 percent didn’t get results "in a timely fashion."
•The Texas Education Agency passed 4,160 10th-graders who initially failed the math section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in 2003 after officials discovered a test question had more than one correct answer.
•Pearson Educational Measurement apologized last year after it reported more than 900,000
The number of students tested has risen sharply since NCLB took effect.
To meet NCLB requirements, states administered 45 million reading and math exams last spring. At the end of the 2007-08 school year, they will give about 56 million tests because they must add a science exam at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
What’s more, each state has its own test, and many want them customized, said Michael Hansen, chief executive officer of Harcourt Assessment, which no longer administers
"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.
On top of that, experts say, are rigid, NCLB-driven deadlines.
"That means March and April we are completely … at peak capacity, and so is every one of our competitors," Hansen said. "But also then when the test results come in, [schools] need the test results back as soon as possible … so the turnaround from the time that the test is taken, to [when] we need to report the results is extremely tight–and it’s getting tighter and tighter."
Others say the problems are exacerbated by little competition or regulation.
The NCLB testing industry is dominated by four companies: Harcourt of San Antonio, Texas; CTB/McGraw-Hill, based in
"It’s not entirely a monopoly, but it is an oligopoly, with very little regulation," said Walter Haney, professor at the Center for the Study of Testing Evaluation and Educational Policy at
Both state education departments and testing companies are "overtaxed and bursting at the seams," said Becky Watts, former chief of staff at the Illinois State Board of Education.
From 2002 to 2008, states will spend between $1.9 billion and $5.3 billion to develop, score, and report NCLB-required tests, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. However, states spend less than a quarter of 1 percent of school revenue–or $10 to $30 a student–on testing programs, even though federal, state, and local spending per pupil adds up to more than $8,000 a year, Toch said, adding: "That’s not enough to produce high-quality tests in the tight timelines that NCLB requires. It’s ludicrous."
The U.S. Department of Education must be more active, Toch said; 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."