Update: This article was updated on Nov. 4 to include action by the State Board of Education.
The State Board of Education on Wednesday voted to penalize the Educational Testing Service, the company administering the state’s standardized testing program, $3.1 million for delivering the scores and reports on the new Smarter Balanced tests late. The state board approved the recommendation of the California Department of Education after little discussion and two comments from the public.
The penalty equals about 4 percent of the $83 million contract that the state signed with ETS for 2014-15. The company can ask the board to reconsider the penalty if it has evidence that its actions didn’t cause the breach of contract. ETS has not commented on the penalty.
Last spring, ETS oversaw the new online tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts for about 3 million students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11. Districts reported that the administration overall went well, with few serious technical glitches among more than 1,000 districts and charter schools.
However, ETS was late in providing districts with paper copies of individual student reports for mailing home to parents within eight weeks of the completion of testing, which occurred in most districts in mid-June, according to a report in the November state board agenda. It was also late in completing a small percentage of scores to districts, which in turn held up the release of the final data file of the statewide results to the Department of Education,
The department had planned to release the statewide results in early August. That deadline was pushed back a month. Reports to parents weren’t mailed out until well into September, in some cases too late for discussions with parents on Back to School nights.
Lee Angela Reid, representing the Association of California School Administrators, told the state board that the late results “created confusion at the local level” and a perception among parents of a lack of transparency. School districts were wrongly blamed for the problem, she said.
Stating that he backed the proposed penalty, Doug McRae, a retired executive from Monterey who oversaw K-12 standardized tests and has closely watched rollout of the Smarter Balanced tests, said, “It’s been standard operating procedure in the industry to penalize a contractor for not making deadlines for returning results.”
Keric Ashley, deputy superintendent of Public Instruction, told the board that he has discussed the problems with ETS and is confident that the company will meet the contract’s deadlines next year. He said that he expects the department will release the statewide results from the spring 2016 testing for every school and district in mid to late August next year. ETS’ contract for next year calls for submitting the students’ scores to districts within four weeks, so that teachers can review the results before the start of school.
Under the terms of the contract, the state was obligated to pay 90 percent of ETS’ charges as they are billed, but could withhold 10 percent – $8.3 million – until the work was completed. Then the department would verify that ETS met the conditions of the contract. The Department of Education proposes to pay $5.2 million of the remaining money but not $3.1 million because of the contract violations.