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Will Utah’s statewide tests yield accurate, meaningful results after RISE debacle?

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Aug. 21, 2019 at 9:48 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Some 20,000 Utah students per day were affected each of the five days technological problems disrupted end-of-year RISE testing, an education official told state lawmakers Wednesday.

“We believe it was higher than that because (local education agencies) had to make decisions about discontinuing testing the following day,” Darin Nielsen, assistant superintendent of student learning, told members of the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee Wednesday.

The state is in the process of determining whether the testing data is accurate and reliable for school accountability purposes.

The Utah State Board of Education “excluded” from accountability test data of 462 students “because of some issue with the platform,” Nielsen said. The students’ results were coded 111 and only state education officials can authorize that code, he said.

The previous year, when the state was under contract with test vendor American Institutes of Research, it authorized zero 111 codes.

State education officials and RISE testing vendor Questar Assessment Inc. are also reviewing more than 3,546 test records that do have scaled scores or participation codes. RISE is an acronym for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment.

In June, the State School Board terminated its contract Questar.

The board is also in the process of seeking liquidated damages for service interruptions and problems with data delivery. The financial penalties are limited to $50,000 per day for service interruptions affecting students and $40,000 a day for data delivery.

The board has since entered a three-year, $21.6 million contract with test vendor American Institutes of Research as an interim provider of statewide assessments for students in grades 3-8.

The state needed to enter a multiyear contract because limiting the agreement to one year would mean Utah students would be tested using three different assessment platforms within three years. The AIR testing program is scheduled to launch this fall.

Nielsen said Utah owns its test questions for grades 3-8, which align with the state curriculum. That will help board staff determine if it can use RISE test data for school accountability, school grades, to determine if schools can exit school turnaround or identify others in academic jeopardy. This was the sixth year the test questions were used statewide.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said other states start over with questions with each new test vendor they hire.

“For us to have that data regardless of the platform is unique and critical,” Dickson said.

Overall, the state has nearly 1 million “test event records” with scaled scores for 95.4 percent of the expected records.

This suggests a lower rate of students opting out of statewide assessments during the previous academic year.

“We don’t have the official numbers, but right now it looks like both for this test and the high school test, the opt out is going to be less than 4% statewide, between 3% and 4%. We’ll publish that as soon as we have confidence that our number is accurate,” Nielsen said.

In the final year of SAGE testing, 5.4% of Utah students opted out of statewide testing, he said. American Institutes ran the testing platform for SAGE testing but it rarely experienced statewide technological issues.

Still, growing numbers of students were opting out of SAGE testing. When the state’s contract with American Institutes ended, it submitted a proposal for another contract. Nielsen said its procurement scores were lower than Questar, so the board selected Questar Assessment instead.

But the transition was far from smooth, Questar missed fall testing launch dates, had problems with a rostering system that gives students access to tests, test submission and statewide disruptions with testing.

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