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Pearson gets emergency test scoring contract from Tennessee

Less than a month after the Tennessee Department of Education fired the creator of its botched new TNReady test, it’s hired a bigger, more familiar testing company to grade the standardized assessment this summer.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Monday that testing conglomerate Pearson will get the emergency contract worth an estimated $18.5 million.

She also disclosed that the department plans to select a new vendor in June to develop and administer next year’s state assessment.

The choice to hire Pearson in the interim was reached in collaboration with the state’s Central Procurement Office, which can purchase services immediately in the open market to meet emergencies arising from an unforeseen cause.

On April 27, the department terminated its contract with Measurement Inc., the North Carolina-based company that developed the state’s standardized tests for this year, including the new math and English assessments called TNReady. TNReady’s inaugural year was marred by slow computers on the day of its online launch, printing delays after the hasty decision to switch to paper testing, and ultimately the cancellation of the bulk of the assessment for students in grades 3-8.

The state’s contract with Pearson goes through December for scoring and reporting of 2015-16 assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

McQueen said the estimated cost of the contract with Pearson is comparable to Measurement Inc.’s price for scoring tests. State officials say they’ve only paid Measurement Inc. $1.7 million of its nearly $108 million contract.

Measurement Inc. already has scored high school exams completed online last fall for students who are on block schedules. Assistant Education Commissioner Nakia Townes said the state will use a formula to ensure that those scores are comparable to the scores of tests completed on paper, and to be graded by Pearson, this spring.

Due to the TNReady fiasco, much of the state’s accountability system, which is based almost entirely on end-of-year tests, is on hold. But McQueen said high school score reports, as well as grade 3-8 raw data, still will be shared with schools and districts in the fall.

Pearson is the nation’s largest testing vendor. In her letter Monday to superintendents, McQueen pointed out that Pearson scores NAEP, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” and currently is partnering with 25 states that include Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana. In Tennessee, the company has developed, administered and scored grades 3-8 tests and/or high school end-of-course exams from 2003 through 2014.

Pearson was among five vendors that applied to create Tennessee’s assessment in 2014 after the state backed out of PARCC, a consortium of states that planned to share a Common Core-aligned test. The state selected Measurement Inc. at the time because it had the lowest cost and scored highest on rubrics detailing test question development and technical capacity.

Pearson has had its own share of hiccups, specifically in scoring items. In 2013, the company admitted to major errors in the scoring of gifted-and-talented exams in New York City.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information, including the estimated cost of the contract and the timeline for hiring a new testing vendor.