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State Supe Says Testing Co. Threatened State & Raises Loss Of NCLB Funding

Today, Oregon state supe Ed Dennis (or someone with his authentic-seeming email) wrote me with a letter (below) about what's going on with Vantage learning and OR's testing woes -- basically apologizing for the massive inconvenience and blaming it all on Vantage Learning, the test vendor whose online offerings apparently fell short, and then way short.

As you'll see, Dennis accuses Vantage of some shady-sounding negotiating tactics (fake invoices, essentially), and raises the possibility of losing NCLB funding if online testing fell through with Vantage, which I think would have been unlikely. logoVantageLearning.gif

Makes me wonder what Vantage has to say for itself (an entirely different story, I'm sure), whether the fact that the situation involves online testing makes a difference (my sense is no), and whether ED would have fined a state for a vendor failure (they didn't fine Illinois for not getting test results back in a timely manner).

For the whole letter and some news and blog background, click below.

Here's the letter from Dennis:

March 19, 2007

Dear Colleagues:

As you know by now, the Oregon Department of Education announced that schools will switch to paper-and-pencil assessment tests in math and reading for the remainder of the 2006-2007 school year. I understand the disruption this change will cause. I understand the extra work and frustration you all will face. I want to lay out the facts, openly and thoroughly, to explain why and how we arrived at this difficult, but necessary, decision.

The choice to drop online testing is the result of an ongoing dispute with our contractor, Vantage, and comes only after exhausting all other options.

Vantage has been ODE’s testing contractor since 2001. Beginning last spring, Vantage, whose contract with us was set to expire June 30, 2007, made numerous inquiries to the department about bypassing the competitive bidding process to renew its contract. Because ODE is required by state law to solicit bids for contracts, we declined Vantage’s repeated requests.

Soon after, Vantage officials began to raise the possibility of past-due invoices that would be dropped if their contract were renewed. Vantage failed to provide any proof of the invoices. We learned later that these invoices, totaling millions of dollars, were based on language included in the original contract that was amended several years ago. ODE does not owe Vantage the money that the company claims.

ODE continued to communicate with Vantage, but the company refused to negotiate in good faith. ODE offered to go to mediation, Vantage refused. ODE asked Vantage to sue if they thought they had a valid claim, Vantage refused. When Vantage would not go into mediation or file a lawsuit, ODE went to the east coast to meet with Vantage.

As communication continued early this year, schools started to experience technical difficulties with the testing system. By February, the system was crashing regularly, refusing to allow users to log in, bumping students off tests, and losing data for thousands of students. We received hundreds of calls from school administrators and teachers complaining about problems. In one day, for instance, ODE received 119 calls in 3 hours.

On March 9, 2007, Vantage terminated service, claiming that ODE would not pay its bill.

ODE was left with a choice between two evils. We could drop testing for the year, becoming the only state in NCLB history not to complete its requirements ─ a decision that could cost our schools millions in federal funding. Or we could move to paper-and-pencil testing for the spring. We chose the latter option because it would allow districts to continue receiving federal funding and to maintain year-to-year assessment data.

The solution is imperfect, but we have no other choice in the matter. We are in communication with the U.S. Department of Education to mitigate any possible negative impact to Oregon.

ODE still believes in online testing. We are confident that with our new contractor, we will have a cost-effective, flexible, and responsive testing system.

We know that testing this spring will be a challenge. We ask for your patience and support as we move forward. Remember that we are in this together, as we all strive to do what’s best for Oregon’s school children.

For more FAQ’s regarding the details of this situation and the move to paper and pencil please go to: http://www.ode.state.or.us/apps/faqs/index.aspx?=125

For a full version of this timeline please go to: http://ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=1231 and click on “Ed Dennis Testimony to Ways and Means”

Ed Dennis

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction

For some news and blog background, check out:
Oregon's testing fiasco Register-Guard, Shift to paper tests frustrates schools News-Review, or Oregon Schools Go Low-tech, Throw out Online Testing, Go Back to BasicsThe Biz of Knowledge, or Oregon, paper and pencil testing, and legal issues Sherman Dorn.

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