Error Inflates Student Test Scores

By  | 

Thousands of Nevada students in third and fifth grades might have received inflated scores on mandatory basic skills tests given in the spring because of a mistake made by Harcourt Educational Measurement.

The error might bring financial penalties against Harcourt, which holds multiyear testing contracts with the state worth more than $18 million.

The inflated scores could also create problems for Nevada school districts, which use the scores to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The error is the second big mistake the Texas-based company has made in the past two years. In 2002, it was fined $425,000 for scoring miscalculations caused failing marks for 736 Nevada high school sophomores and juniors who passed the proficiency exam. Passing that test is a requirement for earning a high school diploma.

State Board of Education member John Hawk, a supporter of stricter quality assurances in Nevada's testing programs, said the company is likely to face another stiff financial penalty.

Hawk said the Harcourt contracts allow the state to nullify the agreement.

Clark County District Assistant Superintendent of Research and Accountability Karlene McCormick-Lee said as many as 21,000 student test results might have been reported incorrectly by Harcourt.

"We're asking the rest of the schools to bring back what they were going to send home to parents,"s aid McCormick-Lee, who was notified of the problem Monday.

The school district plans to notify parents about the error and send them correct test results for their children.

In a letter sent to the district, Harcourt said the miscalculation was not a scoring error. The error happened when the company used the wrong calculation to convert raw scores, the number of correct answers, to the scale scores reported to schools and parents.

A statement issued Tuesday by the Nevada Department of Education said Harcourt's mistake was discovered after a review of preliminary test results for students in grades three and five.

All Nevada school districts have been asked to return test reports dated July 23.

"This is the first year that Nevada, like all other states, has to report annual yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, and we want to take great care that we report it correctly,"State Superintendent of Schools Jack McLaughlin said.

The high school proficiency contract is worth up to $5.2 million for Harcourt. The skills test contract is worth up to $13.2 million. Both contracts run through the 2006-07 school year.

"Harcourt's goals and the (Department of Education's) goals are completely aligned," Harcourt President Jeff Galt said. "We both want to do what's best for Nevada's children and report results 100 percent accurately."