After repeated RISE test glitches, Utah has terminated its contract with test provider Questar

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SALT LAKE CITY — After students experienced repeated glitches during Utah’s spring assessment testing sessions, the state’s contract with test provider Questar Assessment is no more.

Members of the Utah State Board of Education voted to terminate the 10-year, $44 million contract Thursday at the end of a marathon meeting that extended after midnight.

As part of the vote, the board directed education staffers to seek a short-term contract with another assessment provider that can administer tests for next school year, according to a news release from the Board of Education. The short-term provider may be contracted for an additional year or two beyond next school year, said Board of Education spokesman Mark Peterson.

The board also instructed staff to immediately begin the standard search for a long-term assessment provider.

"Our immediate focus now is on collecting and ascertaining the accuracy of the student learning data collected this year and on ensuring there is a fully functioning testing platform upon which to administer the RISE tests next year and in the future," Board of Education Chair Mark Huntsman said in the release. "Unfortunately, Questar did not meet their contractual obligations on the delivery of these tests."

The lone vote against terminating the contract came from board member Alisa Ellis, who said she wanted to see a different motion.

The contract won't be terminated immediately, as state officials still have some negotiating to do with Questar, according to Peterson. The test assessment window is open until June 17 to accommodate year-round schools that are still testing, he said.

State officials don't yet know how much terminating the contract will cost, according to the release. The board will seek "potential damages for failure to live up to the terms of the contract" as part of negotiating the contract cancellation, the release states.

The state has only paid out about $6 million of the total 10-year contract, Peterson said.

Issues with the Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment test, also known as RISE, started April 25 and 26. Students and educators also experienced problems with the test on April 30 and May 10.

The test is administered via a computer system to students in grades 3-8. About 1 million tests are expected to be completed; and as of Friday, about 927,000 of those had been administered, the release states.

Peterson pointed out that some schools went through RISE testing without any issues, and many schools enjoyed the testing.

In April, over 18,000 Utah students experienced problems with the test. Students got error messages when they tried to submit answers for the test.

After the repeated issues, Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson announced May 13 her department would be working with third-party evaluators to determine how to approach the problems.

“With a new system we expected some learning curves as have occurred with each new assessment, but this experience has been filled with unprecedented challenges along the way,” Dickson said last month in a letter addressed to educators. “We sincerely apologize for the stress and frustration.”

But just several weeks after Dickson announced the news, the contract with Questar is dead.

Utah is not the only state that has experienced issues with the testing contractor. Utah state officials knew Questar, as well as its parent company ETS, had issues with assessment tests in other states, but still moved forward to contract with the company.

The board says members brought up those previous issues, though, and Questar assured them that the problems had been resolved, according to the news release.

In Dickson’s letter announcing the third-party evaluators last month, she said officials were hoping to salvage the assessment data gathered this spring, despite the glitches. They were also considering “placing an asterisk indicating where there have been testing irregularities that may have skewed the data,” according to the letter.

The worst-case scenario would be to scrap all the assessment data gathered this spring, Dickson said.

As of Friday, it remained unclear which of those options the state will choose. In the coming weeks and months, Utah State Board of Education staff, along with Questar personnel and several third-party companies, will be analyzing the data, according to the news release.

Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner told KSL Friday that the company would provide services as needed until the state finds a new testing contractor.

"While we regret this decision, Questar Assessment Inc. is going to do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition," he said in an emailed statement. "We have committed to the Utah State Board of Education that we will maintain services on behalf of Utah students, teachers, and districts across the state until such time that an alternative vendor is selected."

Contributing: Mary Richards, KSL Newsradio

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