A widening problem with the scoring of the state's $34-million student testing program has forced a second delay in the release of the much-anticipated results, officials said Monday.
The state Department of Education now hopes to release the school- and district-level scores for the Stanford 9 tests of reading, writing, math and other subjects sometime next week, three weeks after state law says they were to have been made public.
Even as they announced the delay, officials with the state Department of Education and testing contractor Harcourt Educational Measurement tried to shore up confidence in the program, the state's key barometer of student achievement.
"This is a roadblock that needs to be cleared, but the state's testing program is still incredibly valuable and we mean to get this right and move on," said Doug Stone, the Education Department spokesman.
The most recent problem involves scores for year-round schools in 44 districts.
The Stanford 9 data will provide the central measurement for the state's effort to hold educators accountable for student performance, a main component of Gov. Gray Davis' education reform plan.
Secretary of Education Gary Hart also expressed his continued support for the program, which tests students in grades 2 through 11, despite the questions that have arisen about the accuracy of the scores.
"The state of California is wedded to this, and it's important not to change horses once again in midstream, and we're not going to do that," Hart said.
As a state senator, Hart was a key force behind the creation of the state's last academic testing program, known as the California Learning Assessment System. Technical problems with that test the first year it was given, in 1993, fueled criticism that eventually led to its demise. The state was without any statewide testing program until last year, when the Stanford 9 was given for the first time.
Ed Slawski, a senior research scientist with Harcourt, said the data have been undergoing a careful review since the June discovery of a flaw affecting scores statewide. Harcourt has acknowledged that the source of that snafu was a decision to pool the scores of students fluent in English with those who were not, thus inflating the group scores.
When the correct scores are released, the data for students not fluent in English will be among the most closely watched. That's because they will provide the first glimpse of the impact of Proposition 227, a measure approved by voters a year ago to virtually end bilingual education.
While Harcourt was recalculating those scores, an additional error was uncovered by the Long Beach Unified School District. In that case, the performance of students attending 21 schools that operate on a year-round schedule was incorrectly compared to that of students who had received many more days of instruction.
Slawski said Monday that in the past few days the company rechecked the results of all districts with year-round schools and found that 44 were affected. Among them were Glendale Unified, Whittier Union and Saugus Union in Los Angeles County, Santa Ana Unified and Capistrano Unified in Orange County, Moreno Valley in San Bernardino County and Oxnard Unified in Ventura County. District scores, and individual student reports, in Los Angeles Unified were unaffected by the snafu.
Slawski said he remains confident that the data, which the company plans to deliver to the state on Friday, will be correct.
"Everybody is looking very, very carefully at these data," he said. But, he acknowledged, "part of the problem is that our credibility is in question."
Harcourt has agreed to print correct reports for the districts that received incorrect scores for year-round schools at no additional cost. Some districts may already have sent inaccurate individual reports home to parents, however.
Officials with Harcourt, which is paid about $23 million annually to operate the testing effort, were due to begin meeting with members of the state Board of Education today to discuss the mounting problems.
The state has a $2.3-million performance bond that it can hold over the company's head to make sure the problems are solved. Harcourt has a five-year contract with the state, but the board must decide next year whether to renew it.
Marion Joseph, an influential member of the state board, said the state cannot afford to walk away from the Stanford 9 test.
"We need to stay the course on this test, because that's the only way we'll know if our kids are getting better year to year," Joseph said. "But we cannot tolerate this kind of sloppy performance on the reporting."