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STATE considering hiking fines for overdue test scores

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state Department of Education is considering hiking fines for overdue student test scores when it rebids the testing contract this summer.

The action follows cancellation of a contract with Riverside Publishing for missing deadlines for returning state test results. The Board of Education fired the company last week because state-mandated student tests scores were a month-and-a-half overdue.

Penalties _ and the right to terminate a contract _ are about the only control state education officials have over testing companies.

The state Education Department is fining Riverside Publishing $1,800 a day _ $600 for each of three grade-level exams _ until scored tests for third, fifth and eighth-graders are delivered. The deadline was May 1, but Riverside officials said they may not arrive until late August.

The state has paid about $1 million of its $2.1 million contract. State Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett said the state ``won't pay a dime more'' until it gets the scored tests.

``It seems to me that in this age of technology, that we ought to be able to have tests given and results back sooner than we do,'' said Carolyn Crowder, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

``We should be able to give immediate feedback from students so they can learn from their mistakes, learn what they have gotten right and move on.''

Riverside isn't the only testing company that has had problems. Four major companies dominate the nation's school testing market and all have had problems ranging from widespread scoring errors, incorrect rankings, poor test questions and providing students with incorrect test prompts.

``We've been very fortunate compared to most states,'' Garrett said. ``We've probably had fewer mistakes than many.''

Testing errors across the country have been well- documented. Among them:

_Last year, NCS Pearson, the nation's biggest test scorer, failed to adjust an answer key, resulting in six wrong answers out of 68 questions. The error affected 47,000 Minnesota students, including some who were needlessly forced to attend summer school.

_NCS also used a flawed answer key lowering multiple- choice scores for 12,000 Arizona students, including 142 who were told they had failed.

_NCS has missed deadlines for delivering test results in Florida and California.

_In 1999, another major test company, CTB/McGraw-Hill, erroneously scored third- and sixth-grade tests in New York City. The error caused more than 8,000 students to mistakenly be assigned to summer school. It also affected six other states.

_The Vermont Department of Education renegotiated its contract with Texas-based Harcourt Educational Measurement after the company made scoring errors in 1998 and 1999 in mathematics and language arts tests.

_In California, Harcourt inflated the scores of about 250,000 English-fluent students when it put them in the nonfluent category in 1999.

_In 1996, Harcourt made a packaging error that sent the wrong writing test to 80,000 Oklahoma students. Writing tests sent to eighth-graders had the 11th-grade test inside, while tests sent to 11th-graders had the eighth-grade exam inside. Students had to retake the test.

_Last month, Riverside, a subsidiary of Houghton-Mifflin, recalled some Louisiana test results to fix a typographical error that compared local students' scores with those nationwide.
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