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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.

Online testing's 'bumpy' path

If Indiana lawmakers had cold feet about the Common Core State Standards a week ago, they should have been totally chilled by the state's online testing fiasco this week. The CCSS assessment concerns voiced by state Superintendent Glenda Ritz during her campaign last year look positively prescient now.

FairTest, which promotes valid and appropriate evaluations, has been a long and persistent critic of misguided standardized tests. Its warnings about the testing piece connected to Common Core are worth noting. Among them:

Companies with poor track records will design, administer and score Common Core exams. The same old firms, including Pearson, Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, will produce the tests. These corporations have long histories of mistakes and incompetence. The multi-national conglomerate Pearson, for example, has been responsible for poor-quality items, scoring errors, computer system crashes and missed deadlines. Despite these failures, Pearson is sharing $23 million in contracts to design the first 18,000 items in the PARCC's test bank.

That was written, of course, nearly eight months before CTB/McGraw-Hill's latest screw-up with Indiana testing, involving server overload.

Education Week also takes note of the increasing uneasiness over Common Core testing, in light of the computer meltdowns.

It falls to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to defend the mess, because Indiana's standardized test champions were oddly silent.

"There will be bumps, there will be mistakes," Duncan told a reporter from StateImpact during Thursday's Education Writers Association conference. "The big thing is, 'What can we learn with them?' What was wrong with the contract? What was wrong— how do we not replicate this someplace else? With all this stuff, we're moving the country in this direction, so for me, that's not just an Indiana challenge."

Bumps? Mistakes? Really, Mr. Secretary?

Tell that to the anxious third-grader who confronted an error message on her screen just minutes after beginning a test she's been dreading all year.

Tell that to the teacher whose job evaluation rests on the scores of that third-grader and classmates with the same test experience.

Tell that to an Indiana superintendent at risk of seeing more students take vouchers to an unproven private or parochial school on the basis of flawed ISTEP+ scores.

Tell that to an Indiana homeowner whose property value could fall if the neighborhood school is branded with an F because of its ISTEP+ scores.

Tell that to an Indiana taxpayer who helped foot the bill for CTB/McGraw-Hill's $95 million, four-year contract.

Bumps? Mistakes? If only.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at