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Tennessee awards two testing contracts as it searches for TNReady successor

Jason Seliskar via Flickr

As Tennessee prepares to hire a new testing company to take over its ill-fated TNReady exam, two firms that have received smaller testing contracts this spring could be in the hunt for the state’s biggest job.

In April, shortly before firing TNReady creator Measurement Inc., the state awarded a $10 million contract to Minneapolis-based Questar Assessments to create a new optional test for students in grades K-2.

Then in May, the state awarded an emergency contract worth an estimated $18.5 million to Pearson. The testing giant will score the remainder of this year’s TNReady tests.

Both Questar and Pearson were among five companies that applied in 2014 to develop Tennessee’s new assessment for math and language arts in grades 3-8. That contract, for $108 million, eventually went to North Carolina-based Measurement Inc., whose struggle to administer TNReady prompted Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to end its contract abruptly this spring.

Last week, state leaders told members of McQueen’s testing task force that Tennessee is seeking a test maker with experience in administering statewide assessments, preferably online. While acknowledging that not many companies fit that bill, officials emphasized that some exist and are ready for the challenge.

The state expects to have a new contractor in place by July 1.

Questar Assessments won a $110 million contract last year to design neighboring Mississippi’s 3-8 test.

Under its recent five-year contract with Tennessee, Questar will develop the optional test for assessing K-2 students in math and reading skills. That test is meant to help schools predict future performance and will replace SAT-10, a Pearson-designed test for assessing younger students. The Tennessee Department of Education discontinued the SAT-10 this year.

The British-based Pearson’s new contract with Tennessee goes through December. The company is scoring and reporting the remainder of the 2015-16 TNReady assessments, including high school exams, Part I grade 3-8 tests, and any completed Part II grade 3-8 exams.

The Common Core-aligned TNReady was to be Tennessee’s first statewide assessment administered online. However, technical problems halted the exam on Feb. 8, the first day of testing. The president of Measurement Inc. later said there weren’t enough servers for the volume of students online.

The selection process for replacing Measurement Inc. is being overseen by the Tennessee Office for Procurement.

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