Questar Notches Big Victories With Testing Deals in N.Y., Miss.

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Questar Assessment Inc. has been the subject of far fewer headlines in recent years than some of the major players in the testing industry, like Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education/CTB, and the Educational Testing Service.

But lately, the Twin Cities-based company has made a series of big moves in the world of state assessment. Last month, New York officials announced that they planned to award a five-year, $44 million contract to Questar to conduct a suite of exams in grades 3-8.

In addition, Questar won a much bigger contract in Mississippi earlier this year—I’m playing catch-up in this blog post—worth roughly $111 million over 10 years. That work begins during the 2015-16 school year.

The Mississippi contract brings a resolution to one of the messiest situations on the testing landscape.

The state last year spent several months trying to hash out a broad agreement with Pearson to handle its assessment work. But Mississippi’s state personal service contract review board said not so fast—questioning the legality of that arrangement and saying that competing proposals should have been sought from other vendors.

At the time, Mississippi was a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two main state consortia for common-core testing. Pearson’s contract in Mississippi was tied to an award made by New Mexico officials on behalf of PARCC states. But the executive director of Mississippi’s state personnel board said that award did not meet her state’s procurement standards.

Eventually, Mississippi’s state board of education got around the problem by awarding a one-year, $8.3 million emergency contract to Pearson. 

But that wasn’t all. In the face of rising political opposition to the common core, the state board later voted to leave PARCC, and re-bid the testing contract for next school year. Questar won that deal—which had also drawn bids from Pearson and another vendor, Data Recognition Corporation. The latter vendor had just bought up McGraw-Hill Education CTB’s summative testing operations.

Questar says that over the past five years, it has performed summative assessment work in 33 states and the District of Columbia, with exams given to millions of students annually. Mississippi will be the 34th state served by Questar, the company says.

In Mississippi, the state is requiring that Questar oversee a single, end-of-year exam for the 2015-16 school year. The exams covered in the contract span variety of English/language arts and math subjects.

Questar says it will deliver the tests using Nextera, its online assessment system, and that the tests will also be available on paper and pencil to meet some students’ needs.

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