Letter: proficiency testing costs too much

On Thanksgiving Day, Nevada citizens were surprised to learn that the State Department of Education is negotiating a $900,000 contract with CTB-McGraw Hill to administer future school proficiency tests.

State school officials say they want more detailed answers regarding students' success or lack of it on the tests that are required to be completed successfully for high school graduation.

To date, there have been no local public notices regarding the proposed testing and test inquiry contract, and there has been no mention of competitive bidding for the $900,000 job.

CTB-McGraw Hill manufactures standardized tests, sells them to school districts and contracts to correct them. During the first part of this year, CTB-McGraw Hill administered a nationwide standardized test, but somehow the test scores didn't seem right. Parent organizations were upset and complained. But McGraw Hill insisted that the test results were correct. Only after intense questioning by the testing division of the National Research Council, CTB-McGraw Hill admitted that the company had made a major computational mistake.

As a result of the McGraw Hill math error, the New York City Board of Education instituted a new policy that future promotions would be based on attendance and class work as well as test scores.

Many Nevada business leaders are questioning the advisability of spending $900,000 of public funds without official public notification or open bidding.

Some financial and banking people are concerned that this $900,000 deal will only open the door to a common contract practice today. Companies set up a system of their own using their own products. When the next contract is due, the company holding the present contract is the only bidder and the amount of the bid has been raised for the same job.

Past experience indicates that school test contractors usually include many perceived shortcomings in their reports, including current texts, teaching methods, time allotments, noise, students, parents, homework or the lack of it, but relatively little about faulty tests or improving same.

If it is a matter of gathering specific information regarding students' test performance, it is possible to obtain hundreds of first-hand answers by asking the involved teachers. They are on the scene about 180 days per year and could provide much valuable information unknown to test contractors. Why not use the services of appropriate specialists at UNR and UNLV? Neighboring state education departments are more than willing to share their test data and expertise without cost.

None of the above would charge 9/10ths of $1 million. And none of the above would make a mistake on their math computations and then deny it.


Carson City


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