Editorial: Testing the test

Hopefully, state education officials have learned a number of lessons that will help them avoid a repeat of this year’s state testing problems.

It was a tough year for standardized testing in Kansas. In fact, it was so tough that state Department of Education officials now are pondering whether technical problems and Internet hacking tainted the test results to the point that they can’t be considered valid and, therefore, shouldn’t be released to the public.

The state’s annual math and reading tests first were disrupted by technical problems in March that made it impossible for many schools to access and complete the tests. Then, in April, cyberattacks on the Kansas testing system further stalled the testing process.

Officials with the Kansas University Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which designs and administers the tests, said that about 90 percent of the math, science and reading tests that schools had registered to take had been completed. That will provide sufficient data to allow the center to complete its work in designing the new math and reading tests, but there still are questions about whether the tests accurately reflect student achievement at the state, district and individual school level. If the results are not valid, the state may choose not to release them.

Withholding the results of the tests should be a last resort. The testing glitches were embarrassing, but not releasing the results would make it seem that the state has something to hide. The data that’s released can be accompanied by explanations of the technical problems that occurred and how those problems may have affected test results.

The top priority, of course, is to finish the test design and clean up the testing system to ensure that the problems that occurred this year are not repeated next year. This was a pilot year for the state’s new tests, so this year’s results won’t affect school accreditation or be used for other accountability purposes. However, that won’t be the case next year, and Kansas will have to do a better job of administering and gathering valid data from these federally mandated tests.