Ritz announces $3M settlement after ISTEP problems

FILE - In a in this June 10, 2013 file photo, Glenda Ritz, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, talks about interruptions experienced by students taking ISTEP tests. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The company that conducts standardized testing for Indiana schools has agreed to reimburse the state $3 million for glitches that disrupted the testing system last year, the state’s schools chief said Wednesday.

Some members of the State Board of Education said they were stunned Wednesday when Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced her department had reached the settlement with CTB/McGraw-Hill last October.

“I don’t remember talking about any of this,” said Brad Oliver, a Republican board member and frequent opponent of Ritz’s. “It’s my understanding of the statute is the board has to be involved in the contract, so it seems to me like it would be reasonable those things would be discussed.”

The delayed announcement enflamed criticism of Indiana’s schools system, which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said is in “deep dysfunction.” The settlement comes as online testing problems have sprung up across the country, including in Florida, Kansas and Washington.

Oklahoma’s attorney general announced an investigation of the testing company, shortly after a second year of testing glitches hit the state’s students. Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi convinced her state’s board of education last month to terminate its contract with the company.

CTB/McGraw-Hill spokesman Brian Belardi said the testing disruptions in Oklahoma were more limited this year than in 2013, but did not know why the state chose now to take action against the company. Oklahoma and CTB reached a $1.2 million settlement over the 2013 test disruptions.

An overloading of CTB’s testing servers caused thousands of students to be kicked off their online Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus tests in spring 2013. An independent reviewer said the disruptions had little effect on overall performance.

Indiana is extending CTB’s contract for a year because of a federal request that the state establish a new test for 2014-2015 in order to keep its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. But the state is opening the bidding for student testing in the 2015-2016 school year.

CTB/McGraw-Hill President Ellen Haley, who was at the Indiana board meeting to talk about the spring 2015 test being developed, said she was disappointed to hear so much consternation about the settlement.

“We intend to do everything that is said in there, which is more than what’s required in the contract, significantly more,” she said.

Before testing began this year in Indiana, many schools opted to move to pencil and paper rather than take the test online. Christel House Academy, the charter school at the center of Indiana’s grade-changing scandal last year, suffered sharp drops in student scores when taking the test online last year. So the school switched to pencil and paper and their scores returned to normal.

Critics of the growing importance of “high-stakes” student testing said that the rush to implement the tests is causing many of the problems.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said that school infrastructure is a major problem as states begin using online testing. He said outdated computers, limited bandwidth and over-stressed company servers lead to failures like many states have been seeing.

“Like many other policies, politicians imposed new requirements without allowing enough time for thorough development and trial-testing,” Schaeffer wrote in an email..

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