Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Board of Examiners question education testing contract
September 14, 2016
Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Board of Examiners agreed reluctantly on Tuesday to a half-million dollar addition to the contract for statewide proficiency testing of K-12 students.
"My struggle here is to approve more money to a company that's in breach," Sandoval said referring to the fact Data Recognition Corp. failed to get student "end of course" test results to school officials and parents by Aug. 1 so they could be used to determine student placement this school year.
Sandoval pointed out the school year began several weeks ago and school officials still don't have that data.
Superintendent of Education Steve Canavero said the $511,498 addition is only partially related since it's paying to add more end of course exams that don't match existing test categories.
“My struggle here is to approve more money to a company that’s in breach.”Gov. Brian Sandoval
He said the issue with DRC is different than the inability of its predecessor to do the job and get the students tested.
"We have all the assessments, they are there, they are reliable," he said.
Canavero said the disagreement is over when DRC was supposed to get the results out the door to teachers and parents. He said talks are progressing and he believes the issue will be fixed going forward to next year. He said there will be an amendment to the contract to clarify those timelines.
"I don't want to approve an expansion that gives them an out," said Sandoval. "We're paying these folks $51 million."
Sandoval asked what good those tests are if the scores aren't available until after the start of the new school year.
He also served notice to Canavero and his Deputy AG Greg Ott "similar to the construction contracts we have, there should be a penalty phase for each day they don't produce."
Sandoval was joined by both Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. Cegavske pointed out this has been an issue with standardized testing for more than 20 years.
"I will support this with the understanding we're going to have some very firm guidelines in the contract," said Sandoval before the vote to approve the contract.
In addition, Sandoval raised concerns about a series of 10 contracts with vendors providing food products to Nevada schools through the Agriculture Department's commodity Food Program. Altogether, those contracts total just under $1.86 million. He said the problem is the students don't want to eat the food produced in school cafeterias.
Patricia Barton, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Division of Nevada's Agriculture Department said they too have heard concerns about the quality of the cafeteria meals and said they have put together "a pretty extensive effort to improve the quality of meals served."
Barton said that includes a federal grant last year that allowed them to hire a chef to work with staff at the schools to "teach them how to make them from scratch."
She said that grant for $415,000 has been renewed this year and the division plans to work to "get more fresh items on the tray."
Sandoval said when he visits schools, huge amounts of food are just thrown in the trash by students. He said his own middle school daughter and her friends won't eat at the cafeteria.
"I don't want to suggest it's rotten; it's just not quality food. It doesn't taste good to them."
Sandoval said the division needs to put together a group of school kids to taste the food and give school officials and the state advice so they'll at least get food they'll eat, "instead of thinking we know what they want."
Barton said the division and department are working on making sure students have healthy, fresh and tastier cafeteria food.