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New contract casts doubt on future of state writing tests in Nebraska

New contract casts doubt on future of state writing tests in Nebraska

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LINCOLN — State officials are hitting the delete button on state writing tests for next school year.

But they could hit the undo button for future years.

The Nebraska State Board of Education made the change as it works out a longer-range testing plan that takes into account recent state and federal laws.

Nebraska public school students will not have to take the annual essay-style tests during what officials are calling a “transition year.”

The essay tests, introduced in 2001, have been a rite of passage for fourth-, eighth- and 11th-graders.

However, for several years the eighth- and 11th-grade writing tests that are taken online have experienced computer problems. The problems have been severe enough in some instances to require invalidation of some scores. The problems generally have not extended to the math, reading and science tests.

On Friday, the Nebraska State Board of Education adopted a scaled-down contract with its testing company, Data Recognition Corp. of Minnesota, that leaves out the tests.

The $4.3 million contract is for all testing services next year.

Board member Lillie Larsen said the one-year suspension will avert computer issues on those tests.

“I feel that this approach that we’re going to has resolved that for the time being,” Larsen said.

State law requires a writing test in three grades, however.

Matt Blomstedt, Nebraska education commissioner, said that requirement will be met through the state’s new English language arts assessment, which contains writing elements.

That assessment is more closely aligned with state English language arts standards, he said.

It’s not clear yet what the battery of state assessments will look like in 2017-18. The state is developing a request for proposals from contractors who would administer state tests starting that year.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Department of Education aims to replace the 11th-grade state tests with a “standard college admission test” as mandated by the Nebraska Legislature.

They’re moving ahead with that change for next year.

Blomstedt said officials are considering having two tests, one like the traditional ACT or SAT for college-bound kids and possibly another test that’s more career-oriented.

There could be a writing component to those tests.

The state still must comply with federal law requiring that states test kids in grades three through eight and once in high school in math and reading.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com

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