Montana refuses to pay until testing company returns results

By Alison Noon, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 25, 2015 at 3:31 p.m.



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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is withholding payments from a company that has botched three states' academic assessments and is now delaying student and school results.

Office of Public Instruction spokeswoman Emilie Ritter Saunders said Tuesday that state education officials anticipate Measured Progress will provide overdue test data in the next two weeks. But it could be months before students see their scores.

The office will catch up on its July payment of $118,000 once the state receives preliminary data that was originally expected July 15, Saunders said. The state will owe another $118,000 on Aug. 31.

"Until we receive those results and they fulfill their end of the contract, we're withholding payment," Saunders said.

Measured Progress said in a statement they're working to ensure this year's online assessments result in meaningful information to help improve student learning.

The company's open-sourced platform requires additional programming to move the data, according to a memo sent from the Office of Public Instruction to school district leaders.

Montana, Nevada and North Dakota are holding Measured Progress and the testing consortium, Smarter Balanced, responsible for widespread technical glitches during testing this spring. After a delayed start date, the states experienced multiple service interruptions that kept some students from logging in and kicked other students out mid-test.

All three states will send their data to a third-party group to determine whether those technical problems affected students' performance or marks.

"We don't want to be sharing preliminary test results with school districts and students that haven't gone through this test," Saunders said. "We want to understand what those numbers mean."

Smarter Balanced will pay the Center for Assessment to conduct that study, which could take up to 60 days to complete.

The state expects to release final testing results in November.

Nevada recently reached a $1.2 million settlement with Measured Progress after that state claimed the company was in breach of contract.

Montana officials have not taken and are not currently pursuing any legal action, attorney general spokesman John Barnes said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau told The Associated Press in June that she intends for the state to remain in its five-year contract with the test vendor, which will end in 2019. Saunders said the delay in results hasn't changed that plan.

"We've been on the phone with them every week doing check-ins," Saunders said. "They've been quite responsive to try to get everything figured out."

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Alison Noon

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