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New student testing vendor to cost Tennessee $93M over five years

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The newest vendor tasked with overseeing Tennessee’s student assessment test will cost the state roughly $93 million over the next five years.

Last week, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced the state intends to award the assessment contract to London-based testing company Pearson. But Schwinn and the department didn’t immediately release details about the contract — including how much it would cost.

According to records released Friday by the Department of General Services, Pearson’s application estimated it’ll cost $20.1 million to administer the test — known as TNReady — for the 2019-2020 school year. From there, the annual costs will lower, with the 2020-2021 school year costing $19.8 million and eventually $17.3 million by 2023-204.

The state is expected to finalize its contract negotiations with Pearson by June 13. Pearson, a testing giant that has assessment contracts across the country, will be the third vendor to administer the test in five years.

Pearson will administer the first test using paper — typically a more expensive option, but generally safe from technical delays — and then transition to online testing by 2020-2021.

Tennessee sought a new school testing vendor after previous rollouts with Questar Assessment Inc. resulted in statewide delays and sparked outrage from teachers, students, and lawmakers.

Questar also submitted a bid, but their application scored lower and would have cost $16 million more than what Pearson outlined in their proposal.

Questar had surprised lawmakers and education officials when the company announced earlier this year that it would try to hold on to their assessment contract with the state after both auditors and top education officials largely pointed to the company as the key culprit for the longtime failures of the TNReady test.

At the time, Questar said it did not agree with many of the state’s findings.

In 2016, the state canceled its five-year $108 million contract with a North Carolina-based testing company called Measurement Inc. because of repeated failures, including the inability of students to go online to take the tests. There also were problems getting paper assessments shipped to schools on time.

Then in 2017, state officials announced that nearly 10,000 of the tests were scored incorrectly. The following year, lawmakers scrambled during the final days of the legislative session to pass last-minute legislation ensuring no students, teachers, or schools suffered as a result of repeated failures with the state assessment test.

By late 2018, however, fall testing was deemed a success by both the state and Questar due to the lack of disruptions and technology challenges.

A third vendor, AdvanceED Measured Progress, also submitted a bid for the new testing contract. The state threw it out after the application failed to show the company had overseen tests to a minimum of 100,000 students simultaneously.

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