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Problems with state writing test prompts education officials to toss results
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Problems with state writing test prompts education officials to toss results

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Problems that plagued the statewide writing tests this year were widespread enough that Nebraska education officials won’t use them to assess school performance.

“The state won’t use the scores,” said Valorie Foy, director of statewide assessment for the Nebraska Department of Education.

The state writing test is given in fourth, eighth and 11th grades and the results are published in the department’s annual State of the Schools report, along with results of state reading, math and science tests.

Administered in February, fourth graders took the test with paper and pencil, but eighth- and 11-graders took it online and faced a host of problems — repeatedly getting kicked offline while writing, not being able to log on and losing portions of their work.

The state contracts with the Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corp. to administer the test, and has renewed its contract for next year. But there’s been no final decision made on whether to pay the $177,000 cost of this year’s writing test, Foy said.

State officials worked with DRC to track down the extent of the problem and found that at least 500 students from 87 districts lost work, and another 1,000 were shut out or kicked off the program during one 40-minute period. That’s about 3 percent of the state's 44,000 eighth- and 11th-graders.

But state officials couldn’t track how many students were kicked off the computer or couldn’t log on at other times, which is part of the reason they decided to throw out the results when it came to the state schools report.

Foy said the state got 10 to 12 letters from districts representing about a third of the state’s students — including Lincoln and Omaha — saying they had problems. Some of those asked that their scores be thrown out because they weren’t reliable.

Although the state won’t use the scores, schools have the results and parents will get their students’ scores — with an explanation of the problems. In cases where the state knows a student experienced problems, parents will be told, Foy said.

State officials have not yet decided whether to send the results to the U.S. Department of Education as required as part of the No Child Left Behind law, she said. Last year, when they had significantly fewer problems, they chose not to send the scores, though they did provide data on how many students took the test.

Foy said she doesn’t know what the implications might be for not providing writing scores for two years in a row.

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Local government 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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