No word yet on PAWS recount

By David Louis

dlouis@rawlinstimes.com

RAWLINS — Although the official results of Thursday’s manual recount of “missing” PAWS testing materials had not yet been released as of press time, both of Carbon County’s school district superintendents say it’s too little, too late effort by New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service (ETS), the testing vendor.

“I’m glad they are trying to rectify the situation, but why didn’t they get it right in the first place?” asked Carbon County School District No. 1 Superintendent Fletcher Turcato.

“I’d like a company to be competent the first time, and I’m happy the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) is staying on ETS, but I think when there contract is up (in spring 2017), I think the district superintendents need to put pressure on the state to look for another vendor.”

Creating panic among several Wyoming school districts, a Tuesday email from ETS sent to more than 120 districts and/or individual schools contained vague language demanding the return of “missing” overage and non-scorable materials such as testing booklets.

While non-scorable materials are not incorporated into PAWS (Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students), test results they are required to be sent back to the vendor and accounted for.

While Carbon County School District No. 2 Superintendent Jim Copeland believes the manual recount is a good effort, “how much faith can you have in a company that has a poor track record?” he said.

This is the consecutive second year that missing or mishandled testing material has become absent following tests that were given in March.

Although CCSD2 has not been involved in the ETS brouhaha, it is still troubling Copeland said.

“The concern with me is how can you trust a system that’s had some obvious flaws, and this company is doing the counting, basically holding all the cards,” he said.

“That’s the only flaw I see in doing this. It’s good if they are being diligent, but the question I have is, this happened and it’s shook people’s faith in the system and yet ETS is still the ones telling us what they have or don’t have,” he said. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not been very transparent.”

Although a protocol had been put in place to prevent email demands for the missing materials from happening, ETS admission that it was at fault in not contacting schools directly is a bit disingenuous, Copeland said.

“I’ve dealt with similar situations in the past, not in this district, and these companies are pretty unforgiving as far as anything, and you’re just a little bit at their mercy and they tell us what we did or didn’t do,” Copeland said.

Unfortunately, ETS first inclination was that it is the schools’ fault, Copeland said, when in reality it was something else, whether a shipment mistake or ETS mismanagement.

“Still, I’m sure the schools panicked trying to figure out if they had made a mistake, but we’ve come to find out it was not the schools that created this situation,” Copeland said. “Now, oh yes, they’re recounting everything. I guess this is a good thing, but there again if your faith was shaken, it’s probably going to be shaken again.”

Both superintendents agree, regardless if the situation only involves non-scorable material, it calls into question everything.

“The stakes are very high,” Copeland said. “A lot of this is used to rate schools, used for teacher evaluations and the success of their students. It’s just a bad deal all the way around.”

Wyoming is not the only state to have suffered under ETS management of testing assessments.

On Monday, nearly 50 Texas superintendents complained to the state’s education agency, levying dozens of complaints, that a similar ETS assessment test had no right answers, that confidential student data showed up in the wrong places and delivery problems that included tests being sent to a church instead of a school and answers being deleted.

“It’s interesting it’s the same company we’re working with. When I first heard about Texas, it didn’t click it was the same company we are using, but when this came out I thought ‘wow they’re really having a bad day,’” Copeland said.

“Again it goes to the credibility of the company,” he said. “What’s so bad with what is happening in Texas is that in order to graduate and receive your diploma you have to pass that test by the time you are a senior. Talking about high stakes?”

For Wyoming, it’s a wait and see situation.

“I’m going to consult with a lot of other superintendents and we’re going to put our heads together,” Turcato said. “I can tell you in the next couple of months when the test scores come out, we’re going to look at them. We want reliable data that we can give our board and our community, and I’m not sure at this point we can do that with ETS, but I’m going to wait and see how things play out.”

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