Year-end tests in Oklahoma could be in jeopardy

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A delay this week by the Oklahoma State Board of Education in selecting a vendor to conduct about 50,000 end-of-instruction tests for high school students this winter could leave thousands of students in the lurch if they're unable to complete the exams, several education organizations said Friday.

"It's a big mess," said Steven Crawford, the executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit that represents thousands of school administrators. "Testing should not be up in the air at this time of the year."

Other school administrators worried that there's hardly any time left to solicit bids for a new vendor and even if one is approved, teachers wouldn't have enough time to train on a new system before December. Students must pass several end-of-instruction exams in different courses — such as history, math, English and science — in order to graduate from high school.

"One thing we've known is that we've needed a testing vendor since June," said Ryan Owens, the executive director of the United Suburban Schools Association. "I find the timing — a bit of it's almost like a manufactured crisis. We didn't have to wait until basically October to talk about (a new vendor)."

Oklahoma's previous testing vendor, CTB/McGraw Hill, was responsible for back-to-back years of disruptions during the high-stakes exams. In April, about 8,100 Oklahoma students experienced problems such as computers moving very slowly or freezing altogether. A similar glitch stalled testing the previous year.

With time running out to find a suitable replacement, State Superintendent Janet Barresi proposed rehiring CTB/McGraw Hill to conduct the winter tests. Barresi said although she wasn't pleased to recommend hiring the company, the short timeline and lack of interest among other vendors left officials with few options. The board eventually delayed a vote on a $2.8 million, sole-source contract with CTB/McGraw Hill.

Education department spokesman Phil Bacharach said Friday the board is expected to meet within the next two weeks to consider vendor options for winter testing. He also suggested that if officials can't come up with a better alternative, using CTB/McGraw Hill again to conduct the winter tests is still possible.

"More than anyone, we realize the problems with CTB," Bacharach said Friday. "We hope there are going to be other options."

Some educators said rehiring the company amounts to a large gamble because so much is at stake for students who take the tests.

"We're really kind of in heart-attack mode," said Chris Payne, spokesman for Tulsa Public Schools, which has around 42,000 students in its district. "These tests are all very high stakes and you'll get a diploma or you won't, based on how you do."

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