Wednesday, February 23, 2005

ADE Trumps Legislators Again

ADE Hires Questar for High School Benchmark Tests
Despite Their Questionable Credibility

From Debbie Pelly
Once again Arkansas rewards corruption. Do you remember the newspaper headline, “Benchmarks likely flawed, legislators say”1 regarding the test scores in 2002 on the state benchmark tests that were so low they were sent back for review when the ADE received them? When the testing company, Questar, sent them back the 2nd time just before Huckabee’s election, they were so high that Governor Huckabee exclaimed in a newsletter, “You might say it's progress beyond our wildest dreams! … To increase in literacy by 22 percentage points in one year at the fourth-grade level is remarkable. To increase in math by 19 percentage points in one year at the sixth-grade level is remarkable… The percentage of proficient/advanced scores for algebra was up 18 percent from the previous year. The percentage was up 13 percent in geometry. The percentage was up 18 percent for literacy.”2 This company was 4 months old when it was hired by the ADE.

(click "comments" for the rest of the article)

6 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

(continued)

When Questar sent the test scores back the first time in 2002, only 4% of 4th graders performed at proficiency level. When they came back the second time, the scores showed a 65 percent proficiency level – a 22 percent increase from 2001.3

The legislators didn’t buy into the scores according to the Jonesboro Sun report. “After hearing five hours of complex testimony over two days, the General Assembly's education committees have concluded they, Arkansas schools and parents should not put much stock in the scores released last month on fourth-, sixth- and eighth-grade Benchmark tests taken in April…"it is apparent that no definitive comparison can be made of Arkansas' students' academic performance based on 2001 and 2002 Benchmark test results." 4

“Leading legislators (House Education Chair and others) asked the State Department to consider penalizing Questar for the late delivery of the scores and asked ADE’s attorney to look into pursuing ‘liquidated damages against the company and also ‘pulling’ an extension of its contract to develop benchmark tests this year for third, fifth and seventh-graders.5

Instead of following either of the legislators’ request, who does the ADE hire for Arkansas benchmark tests in high school this year? The one with the lowest bid??? No, they hired the same company that produced such good scores for Arkansas in 2002 in time for Huckabee’s election and the company the legislators tried to penalize, Questar Educational Systems.6

Does anyone really believe that scores went up that much in one year without some kind of corruption going on, especially so since they were changed so much during the second reporting. Remember the saying, “If anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Could it be that Questar really wanted to keep that $3.2 million job so they gave better results when the ADE asked for it. If so, it worked. Their contract was enlarged in scope by $3.6 million to include other elementary grades in 2002 and further enlarged now in 2005 to include high school benchmark exams.

Once again the ADE trumps the legislators. After this experience with Questar, the education committees said they wanted to review all future contract extensions of any kind.7 After a decision like this by the legislators on a company’s product, the ADE should have replaced this company with a more reputable one; instead they reward this company by expanding their contract to high school even when they didn’t submit the lowest bid.

A quote from a Jonesboro Sun article explains more about this Questar company in 2002. “Cleveland laid out the case against the contract, saying his research showed that a Dr. John Adams is the focal point. Adams has had testing ties to Arkansas since 1984, Cleveland said, because contracts always were awarded to companies for which he worked. Data Recognition either fired Adams or he left, Cleveland continued, after which he organized Questar.

Questar was only four months old when it answered the Education Department’s request-for-proposal to do the 2002 tests in Arkansas, and Cleveland suggested the firm’s qualifications were not examined sufficiently by the Department."8

Our entire accountability system is based on these state benchmark tests. Students’ lives will be changed because of these test scores and will have to be remediated on the basis of them. Parents will be stressed and be inconvenienced in many ways because of these test scores as they make arrangement for remediation for their children. Entire schools will be closed on the basis of these scores, and legislators and policy makers will be using them to pass laws.

Shouldn’t Arkansans demand a reputable company that is more reliable and dependable on which to base the entire foundation of our educational system in which we have poured billions?

The ADE doesn’t have a very good track record on choosing testing companies. The first company used for benchmark tests in Arkansas for a number of years, Advanced Systems , subcontracted by Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) was fired by Kentucky because they “ failed to deliver a ‘usable product.”9

Newspaper article reports that Senate Floor Leader, Dan Kelly, in July, 1997 said, "We have already spent more than $100 million to develop, administer and grant rewards on the basis of this flawed tests.10 In fact, Advanced Systems’ President said his company Advanced Systems “earned its reputation almost by accident," saying, "We couldn't afford to hire anybody who knew anything about testing, so we hired people who were bright and committed."11

I think the ADE could use a little help from the legislators in this matter. However, again this is what happens with government control. There is not enough time or expertise among the legislators to oversee these matters, so incompetence, waste, and corruption follow. There are probably not five legislators that even know the name of our testing companies or that remember the Questar debacle in 2002.

For more information on the problems with these testing companies and the waste involved see article on “Kentucky’s Comedy of Errors” and “Kentucky, No Model For Education” at the following links. Arkansas has closely followed Kentucky’s model of reforms. .
http://www.wpaag.org/KentuckyComErrorsTestSenate.htm
http://www.wpaag.org/kentucky_no_model_for_education.htm

Debbie Pelley dpelley@cox-internet.com

1. Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmarks likely flawed, legislators say” by Carol Griffee
October 27, 02.

2. RPA Digest" RPA@theVanguard.org Sent: Tuesday, September 24, 2002 11:35 AMSubject: RPA Digest - 09/24/02

3. Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmark scores late; Democrats seek penalty by Carol Griffee

4. Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmarks likely flawed, legislators say” by Carol Griffee
October 27, 02.

5. Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmark scores late; Democrats seek penalty by Carol Griffee

6. Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “Committee selects firm to create tests” Feb. 15, 05.

7. Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmark scores late; Democrats seek penalty by Carol Griffee

8. . Jonesboro Sun, “Benchmark scores late; Democrats seek penalty by Carol Griffee

9. Newspaper Headline, Senate scraps state testing program. Article says that in February, 1998 Kentucky Senate voted 35-1 to scrap the test and fired the testing company. (Louisville Courier-Journal, February 20, 1998)

10. Newspaper article reports that Senate Floor Leader, Dan Kelly, in July, 1997 said, "We have already spent more than $100 million to develop, administer and grant rewards on the basis of this flawed tests. Louisville Courier-Journal, July 28, 1997 entitled "KIRIS simply isn't working"'

11. Viadero, Debra, “The Little Firm That Could” Teacher Magazine, June 8, 1994.

10:41 PM, February 23, 2005  
Anonymous Mindy Beers said...

This is simply politics in Arkansas and education in America these days. MAKE it what I, the politico, school district, want it to say. Of course scores didn't go up that high in one year. It's impossible because it takes more than one year of teaching to get them there.

But this problem with Questar is just like the problem with Fischer and his company.....pay a lot of money for lack of quality....and then pay to fix it...or put the fix in.

Education isn't about the welfare of the student anymore. It's about the bar, the graph, the end sum, the bragging rights, the appearances, the blame game....everything and anything but about teaching students. The students are punished when the teachers fail and I can tell you no one is monitoring the teachers closely.

For instance, Bentonville has a school using volunteer teachers who are not processed through normal channels....why....so the teachers can cheat to get their attendance bonus. Parents, administrators, teachers, and others are aware of this but rather than raise Cain about it....they go along for appearance sake. Yet, how does this happen? Because it's not about education anymore. It's about these phoney, overblown, insignificant tests that the teachers teach to and the administrators condone cheating on. The reason this is so is because now far too much is tied to the test score. Kids may not be able to add or subtract correctly but they can multiply and divide by test time. No mental math capabilities, but must take Algebra. Not all kids are right brained and not all kids are left brained.

We have created a system of anxiety and an age of drugging kids to achieve at the corporate standard. IT IS SICK AND LUDICROUS. It will catch up with us.

7:09 PM, February 27, 2005  
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