Originally created 08/19/00

State purchases PACT trial exams



COLUMBIA - The state Department of Education has contracted with a New Hampshire company to help teachers plan for a test that could have significant weight for school districts in the future.

Pupils in grades three through eight take the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, which eventually determines whether they'll be promoted. Educators also use the results to identify pupils who need remedial help, tailored study guides or extra time in summer school.

Because PACT is important, teachers want their pupils to be familiar with the exam beforehand. That's why state officials paid $753,209 for the practice tests. Measure Progress of Dover, N.H., should have the first of three such tests ready by fall, said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the Department of Education. The questions will be similar to those on the PACT, which are given in April.

The pretests aren't mandatory, so it will be up to each school district to decide whether to use them and how, Mr. Foster said.

Next year, PACT scores will be included in school-by-school report cards the Legislature mandated to measure performance. Eventually, the number of exams will double when science and social studies join the battery of English and math tests.

Published reports released Thursday suggested the state is adopting these trial tests because a Minnesota company has yet to grade last year's PACT. But Mr. Foster said Friday that wasn't true.

Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said Thursday the delay might cost Data Recognition Corp. more than $25,000 of its $6.5 million fee because it failed to produce the scores before classes resumed.

"We are very concerned with the performance of this company," she said. "It has slowed us down considerably. The schools are frustrated. So are parents and students."

For the second year in a row, the test-grading company is so far behind schedule that scores probably won't be made public until late October or November, far from the June 15 date it promised. The state signed a five-year contract with the company worth slightly more than $22 million in 1998.

But South Carolina isn't alone. School districts in Florida, Mississippi and Minnesota have not received test results when they should have, according to published reports from those states, but none involved Data Recognition Corp.

In each case, the problem seemed to be with grading questions that required detailed answers.

Rep. Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, a lead player in crafting the state's 1998 school reform law, wants Mrs. Tenenbaum to seek special legislation that would allow her to renegotiate the contract or obtain the services of another company.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.