AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Education announced Thursday it has agreed to a $4.14 million contract with a New Hampshire company that will develop online standardized tests for public school students in 2016.
The contract with Measured Progress Inc. gives it the right to create math and English assessments for students required under state and federal law for students in grades three to eight and high school juniors, replacing tests developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, from which Maine withdrew earlier this year.
The new assessments will follow Common Core standards adopted into the Maine Learning Results. The contract also includes administration of the SAT, which will become the state’s assessment for high school juniors.
After the first year, the company’s contract can be renewed annually for nine years. Department and company officials held a news conference in Augusta on Thursday morning to sign it.
“I believe we’ve penned a quality contract to which I am personally committed,” Bill Beardsley, Maine’s acting education commissioner, said. “We now ask for your trust.”
It comes after the Maine Legislature — without a roll call vote and with backing from the Maine Education Association, a teacher’s union — dumped the Smarter Balanced test after its debut in 2015. Maine is one of three states dropping it.
Students, parents and teachers criticized it for technical glitches, unclear question wording and taking too long to finish. The new test is aimed at reducing testing time. It will take six hours in grades three to eight compared to 12 hours in past years, the department said.
One potential disadvantage to the new tests, however, is that they won’t be adaptive, unlike the Smarter Balanced test, which adjusts the difficulty of questions automatically when a student gets one right or wrong.
But Charlene Tucker, the department’s director of assessment and accountability, said the new test accomplishes the department’s goal of determining how well a student has learned content expected for grade level.
Lois Kilby-Chesley, the Maine Education Association’s president, said the union “will be concerned” it isn’t adaptive, but it is “cautiously optimistic” the new test will be better than last one.
Measured Progress has worked in Maine since 1985 on other tests, and it manages similar assessments in 11 states, according to Foster’s Daily Democrat.
However, it has recently had technical problems with testing. In August, Nevada reached a $1.3 million settlement with the company after just 30 percent of 214,000 students were able to take the test, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Problems were also reported in North Dakota and Montana.
But Martin Borg, CEO of Measured Progress, blamed those problems on a platform used in those states and developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium. In Maine, he said the company is using another system that has been successfully implemented in other states.
“That was the root cause of that problem, and that’s how we’re addressing it here,” he said.