AIR Poised to Win Three State Testing Contracts Worth At Least $84 Million

Senior Editor

The American Institutes for Research is poised to land three new testing contracts–two of them worth a combined $74 million–in deals that underscore the continued demand from states overhauling high-stakes assessments.

The Washington-based testing vendor has been given notice that it has won contracts with Indiana, worth $43 million, and another with Iowa, valued at $31 million.

In addition, the AIR was selected this week for state testing work in North Dakota, pending an appeal process. The base contract is worth $10 million over five years, state officials say.

In all three states, the contract awards aren’t final until after the vendors not chosen are given the opportunity to appeal or protest the decisions.

The AIR has worked extensively with states in designing and administering tests around the country, a record that includes the creation of computerized “adaptive” tests capable of making mid-stream adjustments to exam content based on a student’s performance.

Shifting to adaptive testing is one of Indiana’s major goals over the next few years, Adam Baker, a spokesman for the department of education, said in an interview.

Schools “are going to have a better opportunity to better understand where their students are struggling, and where their students are successful,” Baker said.

In its application, the AIR, which won a three-year contract, boasted of its “unmatched experience designing and delivering standards-based adaptive tests to support accountability and educational improvement.” The nonprofit vendor was chosen over four other vendors for the Indiana contract: Data Recognition Corporation, NWEA, Pearson, and Questar Assessment.

Indiana sought vendors to work on assessments called the Learning Evaluation Readiness Network (ILEARN) and the Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination (IREAD-3), tests that collectively will assess students in subjects, including math, English/language arts, science, and social studies.

The ILEARN will replace Indiana’s previous exam, the ISTEP, which was assailed by parents and school officials for everything from the fairness of its scores to its length to whether it provided useful information to educators.

Iowa’s Choice

In Iowa, the AIR won a $31 million deal for a duration of more than five years, department of education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said.

The new state assessments will cover testing in English/language arts, math, and science, Iowa officials said in a statement.The five other vendors who pursued the contract were: ACT Inc.; Data Recognition Corporation; Pearson; Questar; and the University of Kansas, according to the state.

Some state lawmakers had been urging the Iowa Department of Education to use an Iowa-based exam instead of one provided by an out-of-state vendor. A state task force had recommended the state use tests designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the Des Moines Register reported. The state board of education accepted that recommendation, but the Smarter Balanced tests were never funded or put in place.

In announcing the awarding of the contract to the AIR, Iowa department of education officials said they followed requirements laid out in a state law which called for reviewers of bids to consider alignment with Iowa state standards, ease of implementation by districts, and the time required to give the tests.

In North Dakota, the state’s department of public instruction said in a memo issued Wednesday that it intends to award a state testing contract to AIR. The agency said it also reviewed proposals from the ACT, Measured Progress, and Questar Assessment.

Barry Levine, a vice president for the AIR, declined comment on the state awards, saying that doing so would be inappropriate before the contracts are made final. The organization says it is a testing contractor or subcontractor on state-level tests in about 25 states.

This post has been updated with details on assessments in Iowa and North Dakota.


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One thought on “AIR Poised to Win Three State Testing Contracts Worth At Least $84 Million

  1. I’m incredibly disappointed that EdWeek would use quotes around “adaptive” testing as if it is a newfangled marketing schtick and not a highly sophisticated methodology backed by 50 years of scientific research. That’s not really contributing to basic literacy in assessment.

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