State investigates possible errors in school test grading

Georgia education officials are investigating whether a computer glitch resulted in grading errors on two high school assessment exams students took last year.

State officials said they received an anonymous letter on Dec. 3 that there may have been a problem. For now, officials do not believe there was a problem. Officials asked for more information from the vendor that graded the exams, CTB/McGraw-Hill.

Georgia officials are focusing their investigation on the ninth-grade Literature and American Literature exams that nearly 40,000 students took.

“There are no signs it happened in Georgia. We are doing our due diligence,” said Melissa Fincher, the state’s deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability, who received the anonymous letter. “The last thing we want is inaccurate scores.”

State officials said if there were errors, they would not have an impact on student grades. Officials previously determined end-of-course tests tied to the new state assessment won’t account for 20 percent of a high school student’s final grade, as those tests did in the past.

Some believe Georgia should re-evaluate the state’s five-year, $107.8-million contract with the company to develop the state’s annual assessment, citing this investigation and some sporadic problems that occurred in April. CTB/McGraw-Hill agreed to provide the state $4.5 million in free services for several technological problems with testing equipment.

“If Georgia students’ tests were scored inaccurately, policy makers should definitely reconsider the state’s contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill both because of the error and because it was not promptly reported” and corrected, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Massachusetts-based organization critical of current testing policies across the nation.

Data Recognition Corp. bought portions of CTB/McGraw-Hill in June. Fincher said her department is confident in DRC, based in Minnesota.

“It’s a completely different organization,” she said.

The potential Georgia issue was first reported by the Indianapolis Star, which found thousands of exams could be incorrect because of a computer malfunction that inadvertently changed grades on Indiana’s high-stakes test. The Star reported that CTB/McGraw-Hill used the same computer program to score Georgia’s test in March, just before Indiana’s tests were graded.

CTB/McGraw-Hill sent Georgia officials a letter Monday stating the company does not believe the malfunction affected Georgia exams. CTB/McGraw-Hill referred questions Wednesday to state officials.

Fincher said she monitored some of the grading on the exams in question in person earlier this year and did not see anything that caused her to believe errors were made.

Darris Rollins, whose son is a sophomore at Westlake High School in south Fulton County, questions whether state education officials did enough due diligence in determining which test vendor to use.

“Whenever you hear stuff like this you’re just afraid, you know of, ‘Did you choose the right vendor? Was enough pre-work and research done before whatever the tools or platforms they put in place were actually put in place? Was proper testing done?,’ ” said Rollins, who has experience working in information technology.

Fincher said she believes the state’s investigation will be completed next month.

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