Nebraska Department of Education won’t go forward with statewide reading, math and science tests unless it can guarantee problems with the online system have been solved, the education commissioner told the state board Monday.

“If we’re going to run into the same problems, I’m not going to put students through it again,” Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said.

After widespread glitches with the statewide writing test, state education officials withheld the January payment of $177,000 to the Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corp., which it contracts with to develop and administer the tests, Valorie Foy, the director of statewide assessment, told the board.

The state recently entered into a five-year, $25 million contract with the company, but can review the contract annually, which it will do, Blomstedt said.

Data Recognition Corp. and the state have pinpointed the source of most of the problems, and updated the software and are now working with districts to make sure testing will run more smoothly. Districts have been having some problems with the updated software, Foy said.

More than 3 percent of the state’s 44,000 eighth- and 11-graders taking an online writing test during a three-week window in January and February lost work, got kicked out of the system or couldn’t log in.

Communicating with district and school administrators as they work through the problems is critical, Blomstedt said, including making sure district officials feel confident the system will run smoothly.

“Now we need to dig out of a hole,” Blomstedt said. “We’ve lost the faith and confidence of some of our school districts. That’s not where I wanted to be two months in (to his tenure as commissioner).”

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Board member Molly O’Holleran said making sure the system has the capacity to accommodate all students is critical, and said that’s been a problem with other states implementing the national voluntary Common Core standards.

She and other board members said they appreciated staff’s openness about the problems.

Foy said it is unlikely the state will use the eighth- and 11-grade results for either state or federal accountability purposes. They haven't yet decided whether to publish the results in the State of the Schools report.

​Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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