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Mississippi chooses Minnesota company for standardized tests

JACKSON — Minnesota-based Questar Assessment will provide most of the standardized tests for Mississippi beginning next year.

The state Board of Education voted Thursday to award a one-year contract worth $12.3 million to Questar. Mississippi has options to continue the contract for nine more years after that, with a total 10-year cost of at least $111 million.

The company will provide English and math tests for grades 3-8, as well as algebra I and English II exams to be taken by high school students. The plan also includes options, which would cost more money, for geometry and algebra II tests for high-schoolers.

Other bidders included Pearson PLC and Data Recognition Corp.

The Department of Education said it followed a recommendation by an eight-person team that evaluated the proposals. Questar’s plan was the most expensive initially, but scored higher in other ways. Mississippi negotiated to cut the price by more than $1 million a year after the evaluators recommended Questar.

Walt Drane, Mississippi’s testing director, said Questar committed to have teachers help write questions for the exams, saying they would be “fully customized.”

“They’re actually here to deliver Mississippi’s needs,” he said.

Pearson had written Mississippi’s tests for years and authored the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of Colleges and Careers test that students are taking this year. Mississippi had intended to give the PARCC test for multiple years. But a Mississippi contract review board rejected a long-term contract, saying other vendors weren’t properly considered by the consortium.

Mississippi signed a one-year, no-bid $8.4 million emergency contract with Pearson, adopting the tests for this spring only. It later dropped out of PARCC.

Many local superintendents and educators disliked the PARCC test and wanted Mississippi to adopt tests from the ACT organization. That Iowa-based testing group declined to bid. Wright said Thursday that the state’s choice proved claims of favoritism for Pearson were untrue.

“If there is one thing I have said from the very beginning, it was that I am vendor agnostic,” she said.

This year’s PARCC tests were given partly in March, with the rest set for May. The Questar tests will be given only in May, for less testing time. Most questions will be answered online, although some open-ended questions will be answered on paper for the first two years.

The change means Mississippi students in 2016 will take their third different standardized test in three years, following the PARCC this year and an older state test last year.

“The majority of members I have heard from have just been totally put out with PARCC, so I think it’s a great relief they won’t be facing PARCC again,” said Kelly Riley, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Professional Educators. “But on the flip side, it’s something new again, which means it will take more time and resources.”

 

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