Franklin County

Auditors can't account for student testing

FRANKFORT — State auditors told a legislative committee Tuesday that they couldn't determine exactly how much it costs to run Kentucky's Student Assessment Program because some figures are unavailable.

Representatives from State Auditor Crit Luallen's office said their audit showed that state level expenditures for the student-testing program totaled $18.6 million in fiscal 2008, including $6.4 million from Washington.

But auditors told members of the Government Contract Review Committee that there is essentially no way to calculate how much local school districts contributed, leaving the total program cost unclear.

"There isn't a mechanism to be able to determine the cost at the local level for the assessment testing," said Brian Lykins, director of special audits in the auditor's office.

That was just one of the audit's findings that drew sharp questioning from the review committee, much of it coming from Republican members.

The harshest comment came from state Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, who thanked auditors for "untangling" an "unbelievably, convoluted, mixed-up mess."

Montell said he was "astounded" that some facts about the testing program remain unclear, declaring that Kentucky teachers who deal with program on a daily basis "must be pulling their hair out" in frustration.

Many Republican legislators have made no secret of their unhappiness with the assessment program. And state Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said last week that he wants to scrap the testing program to help ease the state budget crunch.

The audit presented Tuesday, which the Government Contract Review Committee requested in July, focused on contract payments to three vendors that the state Department of Education hired to implement CATS, the Commonwealth Assessment Testing System. According to the auditors, those three vendors were paid a total of more than $14 million in fiscal 2008. Evidence showed that all contracted services were received, they said.

However, auditors did cite several problems, including:

■ Since the 2006-2007 school year, third-grade norm-referenced tests have not been included in individual schools' accountability scores. The third-grade tests were provided under a central state contract before then, but the state decided to give local districts the option of contracting the test themselves. So many different tests were used that third-grade scores were dropped from accountability scores, auditors said.

The education department tried again last year to have third-grade tests provided under a central contract, but bids came in too high.

■ The state in 2007 accidentally sent a $3.5 million vendor payment to a non-existent bank account. The money ultimately was returned, but the contract with that vendor had to be modified as a result.

■ A billing error caused another vendor to be overpaid by $58,400. The error showed "weak contract oversight and administration" by the education department, the audit said.

■ An appointed panel that is required under state law to advise on the testing program hasn't met since 2007, and there is now no funding for it.

The auditors also complained that vendor invoices often contained insufficient information, or didn't fully describe services that were provided.

Education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said later Tuesday that the department generally agrees with the audit.

"It actually will be very helpful to us, because we will use this to strengthen our internal processes," Gross said.