October 13, 2008

Ed Officials in Limbo on Tests

By Amy K. Stewart Deseret News

Since receiving the green light from the Utah Legislature on computer-adaptive testing, State Office of Education officials are now hitting up the federal government for approval.

And the request may be affected by the presidential election.

Besides figuring out who gets to pilot computer-adaptive testing and who pays for it, USOE officials are pursuing flexibility on the requirements of the federal mandate No Child Left Behind for districts and charter schools that will use the testing program.

Federal education political appointees, however, may already have one foot out the door.

Many are from Texas and "we could assume another state might be represented" either way the election goes, said Judy Park, USOE associate superintendent of data, assessment and accountability.

State Superintendent Patti Harrington said she hopes that because it's an election year, it would "suggest more flexibility and a quick waiver." But some people believe the NCLB officials might want to leave "not having let anyone out of the pen," she said.

Park agrees, saying she believes political appointees in Washington are pretty determined to "hold to the line" and go out of office showing they have "held all schools accountable."

USOE is expecting an answer by the end of the month. "It's a waiting game at this point," Harrington said.

If NCLB flexibility isn't granted, the districts in question will simply add the currently required testing back in, Harrington said. "We don't want to put funding in jeopardy," she said.

Between now and June 30, 2010, three rural school districts, two urban school districts, and five charter schools have the state Legislature's permission to try out computer-adaptive testing programs and be exempt from state testing requirements.

Sevier, Juab, Logan and Uintah school districts are using computer-adaptive testing. Other districts showing interest include Davis, Provo, Carbon, Millard, Beaver and Tooele.

Several charter schools in Utah are doing computer-adaptive testing and "many more would be interested," said state charter school director Marlies Burns.

USOE officials are preparing an application for districts and charter schools to receive a state exemption to do computer- adaptive testing. Factors will include computer readiness, infrastructure issues and willingness to participate in evaluation.

"There is great energy around this right now," Harrington said.

It is yet to be seen how or if USOE would fund the program for more districts.

"There are not huge monies here in this office to support these projects," Harrington said, adding funding will likely be part of the application process. "If they are in great need of money, they may not be part of those which are approved."

USOE used mineral lease revenue to fund three school districts' computer-adaptive testing pilot programs as follows: $50,447 for Logan, $48,891 for Juab and $225,375 for Sevier.

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