After Errors, Nevada Seeks New School Testing Provider

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State education officials said they will solicit bids to replace Harcourt Education Management as Nevada's school testing contractor after the company made a series of expensive mistakes and other errors.

"For Harcourt to retain the contract it needs to go back to the drawing board instead of patching a broken program," Superintendent of Schools Keith Rheault wrote in a memo to the Nevada Board of Education.

In 2003 the state education department granted Harcourt an $18 million, four-year extension on its existing contract to develop and score the high school proficiency tests and handle testing for Nevada's elementary schools.

Harcourt was fined $425,000 by the state Education Department last year for mistakes in grading high school proficiency exams. This fall the company agreed to provide $435,000 in additional services after incorrectly scoring tests for third and fifth graders at more than 220 elementary schools.

Even after those fines were levied Harcourt has continued to make mistakes, Rheault said at the state Board of Education meeting Saturday.

"A lot of these things are human errors that should have been caught by their quality control," Rheault said. "They said they would do better by us but they aren't."

Some of the mistakes, such as high school proficiency test booklets distributed with missing pages, affected all 17 of the state's school districts, Rheault said.

There were also misprints in the science portion of the statewide criterion-reference test for fifth graders. Some school districts reported receiving too many copies of testing materials while others did not have enough, Rheault said.

In April, inaccurate reporting by Harcourt on the high school proficiency test meant entire schools had to revise their results, Rheault said.

A spokesman for Harcourt Assessment, the parent company, was unavailable for comment.

One problem with terminating Harcourt's contract would be that the state would lose the $435,000 in additional services that have been promised, Rheault said.

Merv Iverson, a member of the Education Board, said he was growing weary of dealing with Harcourt-related issues.

"We keep revisiting this over and over," Iverson said. "I don't know that we can get any vendor where there wouldn't be mistakes, but what is an acceptable number?"