Utah goes back to previous provider to fix school testing

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's top education officials are returning to the standardized school testing company they left a year ago, after cancelling a contract with a company whose system led to technological glitches.

Darin Nielsen, the state assistant superintendent, told lawmakers Tuesday that American Institutes for Research has been given a three-year $21 million contract, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

The company will administer tests next year that are given to third-eighth grade students.

"We're fortunate to have that as an option," Nielsen told the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "They're the only vendor that's available on this short timeframe that has the capability."

The decision comes two weeks after the board voted to rescind a 10-year, $44-million contract signed last year with Minnesota-based Questar Assessment Inc. A host of technological problems during spring testing has created uncertainly about whether this year's test scores will be validated.

After the school board receives this year's test scores on July 15, an independent analyst will examine them to determine if they are valid, Nielsen said. The results are used along with other data and information to help gauge performances by teachers and schools. The results can influence funding, school grading reports that are published online for parents and decisions about struggling schools.

The school board chose Questar despite knowing about some of the company's problems in other states.

Nielsen revealed that the company missed several deadlines after signing the contract with Utah in February 2018, including not having live tests ready to go by March 19.

As tests started in April, there were five interruptions including delayed tests for about 18,000 students. Questar couldn't fix the problems without taking 24 hours to reboot the system. That pushed tests back a day for some students. Other students later found out tests they took were never recorded.

Lawmakers criticized the school board for not doing more research about the problems Questar had in other states.

"I think the frustration with this is clearly it was a mistake to hire this company," said Rep. Robert Spendlove, a Republican from Sandy.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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