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Jenks says state test scores are flawed

by: Michelle Linn Updated:


JENKS, Okla. - 5th and 8th Grade students across Oklahoma took standardized writing tests back in February.

The writing tests are given before the bulk of the standardized tests, because scoring is more complex, and takes longer.

Districts did not receive the scores until after school dismissed in the spring, and Jenks Public Schools leaders say, right away, they knew something was wrong.

"It’s very, very unusual for us to see even two of the categories come up with the same score for a student, because students tend to be stronger in some areas than others," said Dr. Lisa Muller, Jenks Public Schools Assistant Superintendent.

We found this on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website, explaining how the writing tests are supposed to be scored, using a rubric.

Areas like "ideas and development" are worth 30% of the score.

Other areas, like "grammar usage and mechanics" are worth 15%.

Dr. Muller says it's abundantly clear CTB/McGraw Hill, the same test vendor that had catastrophic failures that disrupted state testing for thousands of Oklahoma students in 2013 and again in the spring of 2014, did not follow the rubric.

"At the middle school, 81 percent of the scores showed a student had exactly the same score in every category in the rubric. That was one of our first hints that there was a problem with the scoring," said Dr. Muller.

FOX23 has learned Norman Public Schools had a similar problem.

"There was very little consistency from one sample to another, from what received a passing score, and what did not receive a passing score.  Those who scored limited knowledge had essays that were stronger than some of those who scored satisfactory, so we didn’t see internal consistency with the scoring across essays," said Dr. Muller.

Dr. Muller says when Jenks, and other school districts, brought this to the State Department of Education's attention, they were assured everyone who scored the tests was properly trained. 

SDE told school districts they could take a gamble.

They could challenge the scores, but if CTB/McGraw Hill did not find a reason to change a student's score, Jenks would have to pay $125 per test.

"If we requested all of the 5th and 8th grade scores to be re-scored, at our cost, it would be $212,000.  Obviously, we won't commit to that. We are frustrated with the fact that we've continued to have testing problems," said Dr. Muller.

Jenks and other school districts are taking the fight one step further.

"We have not been able to get an adequate response from the State Department of Education regarding the re-scoring of the tests, and we have requested that all of our tests in 5th and 8th grade be re-scored at no charge to the district," said Dr. Muller.

Jenks Public Schools sent the state that request, in writing, two weeks ago and has not gotten a response.

FOX23 contacted a spokesperson from the State Department Education to find out what the SDE plans to do about Jenks' request.

We're still waiting to hear back.

Dr. Muller says, as these tests become more high stakes in the coming months, factoring into schools' letter grades, and for the first time ever, this year, becoming a part of teachers' performance evaluations, knowing the data is flawed is frustrating.

Dr. Muller says what's even more frustrating, is that the district won't use flawed scores to help drive classroom instruction, so the time spent taking these tests, back in February, was wasted.

She tells FOX23 when students return to school in a couple of weeks, and get their scores, the district will be very clear in communicating why the results are not accurate. 

5th and 8th graders will take writing tests this upcoming school year, but they will not be provided by CTB/McGraw Hill, because earlier this year OKSDE ended its multi-million dollar testing contract with the company.

"The best case outcome for us would be that the State Department of Education demand that the testing vendor provide re-scoring services without a cost to either the state or the districts," said Dr. Muller. 

FOX23 will keep following this, and let you know how SDE plans to handle Jenks Public Schools' complaint.