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Jordan Allred, KSL, File

Utah school board OKs $21.6 million contract with SAGE test maker

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Aug 2nd, 2019 @ 6:38am



SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education rekindled its relationship with test vendor American Institutes of Research, makers of the SAGE test, as an interim provider of statewide assessments for students in grades 3-8.

The board voted late Thursday to enter a three-year contract with American Institutes of Research — or AIR — for $21.6 million, according to board documents.

The state needed to enter a multi-year contract because limiting the agreement to one year would mean Utah students would be tested using three different assessments within three years. The contract will begin immediately and the testing program will launch in the fall.

AIR will replace the testing vendor Questar Assessment Inc. The board voted in June to terminate its contract with the RISE testing vendor after technical issues and other problems that plagued the statewide testing program.

For test development and one school year of assessment service, the board agreed to an amended contract that will pay Questar $9.65 million. The early years of a testing contract are the most expensive because of work devoted to developing the tests, state officials say.

That amount includes $7 million that has already been paid. Meanwhile, there are still efforts to recover damages from Questar.

The $44.7 million contract with Questar for 10 years of testing services was reduced by $35.1 million, according to board documents.

RISE assessments were administered to students in grades three through eight in language arts and math using online multistage adaptive testing. Starting in fourth grade, science is tested and writing is assessed among students in grades five and eight.

RISE, which stands for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment, was selected by the State School Board last year as a replacement for SAGE testing. SAGE stands for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence.

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Growing numbers of students were opting out of SAGE testing, which raised concerns for education officials because the test results are used for state and federal accountability purposes.

Some parents were initially opposed to SAGE because it tested students against the Common Core State Standards, a controversial series of academic benchmarks that raised the bar for students in math and English.

At the same time, concerns over excessive testing also began to surface nationally, which also contributed to parents opting their children out of testing, state officials said at the time.

But the transition to a new testing platform was far from smooth. In addition to problems with test administration, Questar missed two testing launch dates for assessments last fall.

By November a more significant concern developed. The rostering system that gives each student access to tests was malfunctioning.

This spring, end-of-year testing was interrupted by several problems. Some districts reported that students received error notices as they attempted to submit completed tests, the system was slow, and servers dropped in and out of service.

Some of the problems were localized. There were also statewide interruptions of testing, such as rostering, officials said.

Meanwhile, school board staff are working to select a long-term testing provider, which would require the approval of the State School Board.

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