The state Board of Education on Wednesday voted to hire a new company to administer the mammoth public school testing program, which has often been marred by statistical problems.
The 6-2 board vote authorized state officials to negotiate a $60- million-per-year contract with Educational Testing Service, the company that created the Scholastic Achievement Test college entrance exam and the state’s high school exit exam.
ETS beat out three other bidders, including Harcourt Educational Measurement, which has run the state testing since it began in 1998. The switch means the state will no longer use Harcourt’s Stanford 9 exam, but Board of Education President Reed Hastings said that ETS will offer tests that will not be significantly different. Hastings said ETS was chosen because of the firm’s wide experience and its suggestions to improve the exam program.
The state Standardized Testing and Reporting program, known as STAR, is in the process of putting more emphasis on what students are taught in California schools rather than on comparing their abilities to youngsters elsewhere in the nation.
While recommending ETS for the three-year contract, Supt. of Instruction Delaine Eastin ranked Harcourt second. Eastin suggested that Harcourt had gotten past the troubles that plagued its Stanford 9 test, especially early in the program.
In the first year of the test, a demographic analysis of the results was hampered by the lack of useful personal information about students on about 18% of all the tests.
The next year, about 300,000 fluent English speakers were incorrectly classified as limited English proficient. Before it was corrected, the error caused a stunning jump in the scores of the limited English proficient, touching off exaggerated claims about the benefits of Proposition 227, the state initiative that eliminated most bilingual education.
The Stanford 9 test has also been dogged by a dispute over the cause of a dip that shows up consistently in the scores of ninth-grade students across the state. Harcourt has always denied that there is anything wrong with the test.
Former school principal Nancy Ichinaga and the board’s student member Erika Goncalves dissented in the 6-2 vote. Ichinaga said she empathized with some school district officials who said they wanted continuity in the STAR program.
At the same time the state board was considering the new contract, a legislative assault on the state testing program passed a hurdle in the Assembly education committee Wednesday after being somewhat watered down by its author.
Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) initially sought to scrap the testing program. But, after conferring with committee Chairwoman Virginia Strom-Martin (D-Duncans Mills), Goldberg agreed to amendments that would leave in place the portion of the test that measures students’ knowledge of the California standards and phase out the portion that compares students nationally.
In addition, the bill would exempt students not proficient in English from taking the test, and it would eliminate a requirement that students pass the state’s high school exit exam to graduate.
The committee was still considering those amendments late Wednesday, and the overall bill faces controversy ahead in the Legislature.
The state’s mammoth testing program has been lauded as a keystone of school reform. Reading and math scores have shot up under pressure of the test, especially in the early years. In 2000, two-thirds of the state’s schools met growth targets imposed by the state. Last year, statewide average scores continued upward, but at a slowing pace.
But the program also is criticized, especially by the powerful teachers unions, as a flawed tool that forces teachers to drill students on meaningless test-taking skills to attain artificial improvements. If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives. For information about reprinting this article, go to www.lats.com/rights.