Test scoring error sends reward money to the wrong schools

Saturday September 29, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The state Department of Education may have to reclaim $750,000 it mistakenly awarded to San Joaquin Valley schools after a scoring error on a standardized test. 

The publisher of the Stanford 9 achievement test said scores were inflated because it measured the results of about 19,000 students on last year’s test against the wrong national sample. 

The money, which was awarded for improvement on the test, was erroneously sent to six public schools and more money was supposed to go to 16 schools where staff members expected bonuses up to $25,000. 

Teachers are upset about the prospect of having to return cash they received for achieving certain goals on the test. 

“We have some mad people,” said Scott Bishop, a high school math teacher and president of the Kerman Unified teachers union in Fresno County where teachers received nearly $600 each. “That’s a lot of money.” 

State Department of Education officials are looking into whether it can allow schools to keep the money they received and whether it can be reimbursed by test publisher Harcourt Educational Measurement. 

“We know that teachers have cashed these checks; we know schools are using this money,” said Paul Warren, the state’s deputy superintendent for accountability. “It would be difficult to ask for it back. We’re trying to find a solution that creates as little upset as possible.” 

Harcourt said it plans to work with the state to resolve the issue that arose when a Central Valley school district expressed concerns about test scores. 

Harcourt reported scores as if the students had taken the test in December rather than the following spring when they would have had more instruction. 

The Stanford 9 is the basis for the state’s testing and accountability program and is the sole criterion for ranking schools and determining their eligibility for taxpayer-funded rewards. 

The six schools that erroneously received money were all in Fresno County; five are in Reedley and one is in Kerman. 

Some teachers and administrators, who are critical of the rewards program want to see it dismantled. 

“We were seeing some divisiveness as a result of that program,” said Jean Fetterhoff, superintendent of Kings Canyon Joint Unified. “If I’m working really hard in a classroom for the right reasons and my kids don’t happen to test very well, but I see a neighbor across the district that is receiving big bucks for what I’m doing, there is a sense of unfairness about that.”