The Trouble With Testing

Standardize testing

H.D. Hoover is one of the godfathers of standardized testing. He's the principal author for more than two decades of the highly regarded Iowa Basic Skills Test. But as he tells CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian, the thousands of SAT tests that were scored incorrectly last fall may be part of a bigger problem with scoring accuracy — extending right down to the grade-school level.

To Hoover, the testing industry today is "overburdened.

"There are so many demands in place on the testing industry," he says, "and the testing industry, frankly, didn't have time to ramp up to get ready for this."

There has been an avalanche of educational testing in recent years, much of it created by a landmark federal law known as No Child Left Behind. The law, passed in 2002, requires every public school student in America to be regularly tested in math and reading. That's some 45 million such tests this year alone.

Hoover says the scoring mistakes are largely the result of the boom in the volume of testing.

"The errors that were made are those that primarily were caused when you have so much volume," he says. "It's just more difficult to have quality control, the kind that you need — and testing really requires quality control."

Quality control is becoming an ever-larger issue in the standardized testing industry. In the years since No Child Left Behind took effect, scoring blunders have been discovered in several states, including Virginia (2005), Alabama (2005), Ohio (2005), Wisconsin (2005), Georgia (2003) and Nevada (2002).

But one particularly telling case of scoring problems occurred even before the new law: Six years ago, scoring errors resulted in nearly 8,000 Minnesota high school students incorrectly failing a test they needed to graduate. In a lawsuit that cost the scoring company, NCS, $7 million, a judge declared the errors were the result of "years of quality control problems" and a "culture emphasizing profitability and cost-cutting."

"I think the biggest thing that goes wrong is the time factor — the crunch," says Jon Osmundson who directed the team that handled the Minnesota exam. "In the time I was there, we processed a number of states and they all came in at the same time. We ran those machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months."

Osmundson was fired in the wake of the mistakes in Minnesota. He says he was made a scapegoat for a breakdown in an overloaded system.

Industry leader Pearson Educational Measurement took over NCS in 2002, just as volume and demand in standardized testing exploded after No Child Left Behind was passed. This year alone, Pearson, which is also at the center of the current SAT scandal, will score some 40 million tests — promising state school systems ever-tighter turnaround times. Pearson declined comment.

Osmundson maintains that those tight turnaround times, as short as seven days in some cases, exact a price in accuracy.

"That puts a great deal of pressure on quality control," he says. "If they are running in that tight a time frame, there really is no room for error."

With errors more common than ever, Osmundson says parents have to take extra care to make sure that their children's tests are correct.

"Parents should be very vigilant," he says. "Parents should take a very active role."