Proficiency exam fails the math test

What happens when high-school student can't pass the required proficiency exams?

They don't graduate.

What happens when the company doing the testing can't score it correctly?

It should be fined and fired.

Harcourt Educational Measurement, the company which develops and scores the test for Nevada, 'fessed up last week that it had incorrectly reported 736 Nevada students had failed the math portion of the test.

As it turns out, though, the students needed only 41 correct answers to be successful -- not 42.

Sounds like a pretty simple math problem to us.

The solution, unquestionably, is in accountability. The students are solely held responsible for passing these tests, and the company should be solely responsible for scoring them correctly.

The greater question, though, is in the advisibility of the all-or-nothing standard Nevada has adopted for high school proficiency.

We support the efforts to raise the bar for Nevada students, and we want as much as anyone for a Nevada-issued high-school diploma to certify a certain level of accomplishment.

But as this scoring error by Harcourt so deftly illustrates, the margin for failure is one single wrong answer.

What would have happened had Harcourt never discovered the flawed bit of programming that gave the incorrect results? It's easy to assume that 736 young lives could have been altered forever, sent down a path of perceived failure, lowered expectations and social stigma.

Yes, these were underclassmen who had other opportunities to pass the test. Three in Carson City already had.

But the incident has certainly given us second thoughts about how narrow is the line Nevada has drawn between success and failure. Everybody makes mistakes. Their ability to recognize and correct them has to account for something too.


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