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Harcourt Apologizes for Test Errors

Though this story is Hawaii-specific, it's worth checking out if Harcourt is also the test provider in your state. Screw-ups, such as the ones for which Harcourt is now apologizing, are often not confined to a single contract, especially since questions are sometimes used in more than one jurisdiction.

Honolulu Advertiser -- June 2, 2004
by Derrick DePledge

Harcourt Assessment Inc., the Texas company that prepares tests for Hawai'i's public schools, has apologized for making numerous errors on this year's exams.

In a letter sent to school principals on Friday, the company wrote that the mistakes were a "grave disappointment" and promised additional inspection of future test materials to improve accuracy.

Last month, Harcourt acknowledged at least 45 flaws on reading and math tests that thousands of Hawai'i students took this spring, including one that involved an actual test question. Company officials have said they would make any necessary adjustments so no student test scores would be influenced. No students will have to be retested because of the errors.

"Please accept our apology and know that everyone in the company is dedicated to restoring your confidence in Harcourt Assessment," wrote Robin Gunn, the company's senior vice president.

Although the tests do not determine student grades, the errors are potentially significant because the scores are used to judge whether schools meet goals under the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that do not reach their goals face sanctions.

Selvin Chin-Chance, who oversees student testing at the state Department of Education, said Harcourt and the DOE should know within the next few weeks how the errors might have affected student scores and what, if any, remedies are needed.

Schools that narrowly miss out on their academic targets under the law, especially schools that may have to offer tutoring or student transfers, could blame the flawed tests and appeal to the DOE.

"We're hoping that not too many schools are on the edge," Chin-Chance said.

Harcourt, which has a five-year, $20 million contract with the DOE, will compensate the department for the errors and pay a penalty. The company has testing contracts with more than 20 states and with numerous school districts.

Harcourt has had to apologize or pay penalties for testing errors in a handful of states over the past few years. Mark Slitt, a Harcourt spokesman, said the company has added stronger quality control  including test simulations  to reduce the chance of errors.

"This was a matter of people who took shortcuts," Slitt said of the problems on Hawai'i tests.