Just over a month ago, the Post-Dispatch started a series of articles on standardized test cheating in Missouri and elsewhere. The lead article pointed out that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education failed to purchase software which can detect test result anomalies despite the fact that, according to DESE, the software would only cost $45,000.
I filed a bill in response that would require DESE to buy the software. The reasons are simple. If standardized tests are intended to give an accurate measure of student achievement, Missouri taxpayers deserve accountability measures to ensure the system isn’t being gamed.
To my surprise, DESE claimed my bill would cost over $250k. Undeterred, I asked about the discrepancy and was told that the cost of the software was $45k when limited to grades three through eight.
Fast-forward to this week – I attached an amendment to a state contracting bill which would require DESE to purchase the software – but only for grades three through eight. The Department had previously told both the Post-Dispatch and my committee that such software cost $45k. My amendment passed on to the bill with bi-partisan support – and the bill is then assigned to Fiscal Review. Much to my surprise, the bill came back from fiscal review with the same $250k+ fiscal note.
To make matters worse, I was informed after passage of my amendment that DESE may have lapsed $141,375 in funding for accountability testing from last year’s budget. That means the Department was appropriated $141,375 more than it actually spent – which, if true, eviscerates the argument that they didn’t and don’t have the money to buy the software.
In response to these inconsistencies, I’ve sent the attached letter and request for production of documents to the Department. See DESE – RQFPD. What started as a simple bill to move the Department to do something which I believe the vast majority of Missouri taxpayers believe it should do anyway has turned into something bigger. I do not understand how the responses to inquiries can be so inconsistent and so will investigate further. The lady doth protest too much methinks.