Assessment Fallout: Texas Fines ETS, Nevada Says DRC Misses Deadlines

Associate Editor

Two assessment companies—Educational Testing Service and Data Recognition Corp.—are the latest to have incurred the wrath of state education officials, who blame them for problems that played out on their states’ exams.

The Texas Education Agency announced last week that it will collect a fine from ETS, the company responsible for the statewide delivery and administration of its State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests, with liquidated damages amounting to $5.7 million, and a required investment of $15 million of its own funds for planning to address issues like late delivery of test results that caused the education commissioner to scrap 5th and 8th grade results earlier this year. (Liquidated damages are damages agreed upon in a contract as compensation for specific breaches.)

That $20.7 million in penalties “addresses various logistical issues encountered by students and school systems during statewide STAAR administration in the 2015-16 school year,” the agency said in its announcement.

“ETS apologizes for the operational shortcomings during this year’s STAAR program,” said Tom Ewing, a spokesman for ETS in an e-mail. “Our most important goal is to deliver the high-quality program the students and educators of Texas deserve, and we will continue to improve programs and processes to achieve that objective.”

Meanwhile in Nevada, the state attorney general sent a letter to the CEO of Data Recognition Corp. earlier this month saying that it is in breach of contract for late delivery of statewide test scores. The letter specifies that various grade-level “individual student test results” are late, including those for English language arts and math for Smarter Balanced testing, science assessments, and the Nevada Alternative Assessment.

Assessment results that were due in July and August are now scheduled to arrive on Sept. 2 for the alternative assessments; on Sept. 9 for science in grades 5, 8 and 10; and on Nov. 10 for Smarter Balanced. “As of the date of this letter [August 16, 2016], DRC has delivered no ISRs,” the letter says of the individual student test results.

We contacted DRC President and CEO Susan Engeleiter for comment, but haven’t yet received a response. However,  the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that it received an emailed statement that the company said it “respectfully” disagreed with the complaints and the letter, and promised a formal response to the department.

Last month, the state announced that it would recoup $1.8 million from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium over issues that arose in March 2015 from assessment issues.

ETS Expected to Fix Issues

In Texas, state education commissioner Mike Morath indicated that ETS was ordered to invest $15 million of its own funds toward an action plan to address concerns that have emerged over the past school year, including: online testing system enrollment; shipping; online testing; precoding; and scoring and reporting.

“I believe this combination of liquidated damages with an additional financial commitment from ETS reflects the correct balance of accountability for the recent past and safeguards for the future,” said Morath in a statement.

In response to the testing problems that played out during the 2015-2016 school year, ETS told Commissioner Morath that the company provided support services to school districts and charters across the state totaling approximately $20 million. The company has picked up these costs, above and beyond the state contract, according to the state.

ETS currently holds the state contract for the administration of STAAR 3–8 and high school STAAR end-of-course exams. That contract was awarded in 2015.

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