Tennessee, Utah Drop Questar for Assessments; Pearson Lands $93 Million TNReady Contract

Associate Editor

Utah is in the market for a new testing vendor, and Tennessee finalized a 5-year contract with Pearson worth up to $93 million, as both states replace Questar Assessments Inc. at the conclusion of this year’s summative assessments.

Utah found fault with Questar Assessment‘s performance in administering end-of-year online tests, canceling what would have been a 10-year, $44 million contract for the computer-adaptive tests in grades 3-8 on June 7, citing “a spring marred with glitches” in its announcement. About $6 million has been spent on the tests to date, according to Mark Peterson, public relations director at the Utah State Office of Education. The last of the state’s Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment tests were given today.

Tennessee’s complaints predated administration of this year’s assessments, which were delivered online and in paper formats. While the testing went smoothly, according to the education commissioner, when an RFP was released for the next round of testing, Pearson was awarded the contract.

Tennessee: Moving to Paper for One Year

“We are disappointed in the Tennessee Department of Education’s decision to choose another vendor for future testing, but we do not consider that a reflection of our work over the past year. We remain committed to doing all we can to make a smooth transition to the next vendor in Tennessee,” said Brad Baumgartner, Questar’s chief operating officer said in an emailed response. Questar is a wholly-owned, independently-operated subsidiary of Educational Testing Service.

For next year, Tennessee is going back to “paper-only” tests. That decision came before the testing window even opened on April 8 this year. At the time, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced plans to cancel computer-based administration of tests altogether for 2019-2020. “The move to temporarily reinstate paper-based testing next year will allow the new vendor to establish an accountable, long-term solution to be put in place for students, teachers, and taxpayers,” the governor said at the time.

The 40-month Questar contract in Tennessee ends Nov. 30. The estimated cost for Pearson to administer paper-based TNReady assessments in the 2019-20 school year will be $20.1 million, according to the state’s Department of General Services. That is the maximum the company can charge. In 2020-21, the most Pearson could charge would be $19.8 million. By 2023-24, the maximum cost would come down to $17.3 million. 

Earlier this year, a performance audit by the state comptroller’s office found that the Tennessee Department of Education and Questar shared responsibility for delays and disruptions in statewide assessments last year.

Questar told EdWeek Market Brief in January that it was working on various issues: “Questar Assessment is committed to continually advancing our processes, technology, and security,” Baumgartner said at the time. “We look forward to serving Tennessee teachers and students this spring with the best testing experience possible.”

Utah: In the Market for a New Vendor

“While we regret the decision in Utah, Questar Assessment Inc. is going to do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition,” said Baumgartner. The company will maintain services on behalf of Utah students, teachers, and districts across the state until an alternative vendor is selected, he said.

How this year’s testing disruptions in Utah will affect Questar’s payment for its services has yet to be determined, according to Mark Peterson, public relations director at the Utah State Office of Education. In the meantime, Utah is looking for vendors that can provide formative assessments this fall, and computerized adaptive assessments next spring.

“We are moving forward with a full RFP for a new assessment system for grades 3-8 beginning in the 2023-24 school year,” Peterson said. For now, state representatives “are speaking with vendors about providing an interim adaptive test for 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22.”

“We will learn from our experiences and are committed to continuous improvement,” Baumgartner said. “Questar will continue to develop and deliver high-quality assessments that improve teaching and learning in classrooms across the country. Our focus is on our current partner states and providing the level of service they expect.”

New Mexico Seeks Assessment Vendor, Too

Meanwhile, New Mexico is also in the market for new assessments, according to an RFP recently released by the state.

The state is looking for a vendor to develop, administer, score, and report on statewide summative assessments in grades 3-8 and high school in English/language arts and math. The organization that is chosen also needs to perform the same duties for interim assessments that are similar in item types and design to the summative tests.

In the RFP, state officials also noted that New Mexico is undergoing a “transformation” in assessment, marked by its transition away from the PARCC assessment system, even as it remains obligated to meet the federal testing requirements outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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