BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Department of Education has conditionally selected a New Hampshire-based education firm to create the statewide assessment that will replace Maine’s defunct Smarter Balanced test.
New acting education Commissioner Bill Beardsley announced Tuesday the decision to award a conditional contract to Measured Progress Inc. to develop the state-required math and English language arts assessments for the current school year. Maine students in grades 3-8 and high school juniors will take the new standardized tests.
“Further contract details will be negotiated between the Maine DOE and Measured Progress Inc.,” Beardsley said. “Once those final steps have been completed, we will be in a position to move forward.”
Details on the proposed cost of the deal were not released. Anne Gabbianelli, Maine DOE spokeswoman, said in a text message Tuesday night she did not have access to proposed figures and added they are still subject to negotiation.
The tests will replace last year’s, which were developed by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The Smarter Balanced tests were criticized by some teachers, parents and students for taking too long to complete, being poorly worded and difficult to use.
The Legislature voted to kill the test after its debut year and launch a task force to find a new provider for this year’s exams. The state spent $2.7 million to implement the test.
That task force of education officials and educators crafted a request for proposals to build new tests. The request for proposals was released in early September. Beardsley said the state received five responses. Measured Progress’s competitors have 15 days to appeal the state’s decision before it becomes final. The State Procurement Review Committee also must review documentation to ensure the competitive process and decision were handled appropriately.
Measured Progress has had problems in other states.
This past summer, Nevada reached a $1.3 million settlement with the firm after just 30 percent of the roughly 214,000 students expected to take the Web-based tests were able to complete them because of crashes and log-in problems, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
North Dakota also is seeking compensation of more than $300,000 for problems it experienced while administering the test, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Those technical glitches included log-in problems and lagging servers when many students were taking the tests.
Schools in Montana reported similar issues and decided during testing in April that the 2015 test would be optional because of the difficulties schools were having administering them.
Other states, such as Oklahoma, have implemented Measured Progress tests with few problems.
In several states, including Nevada, Montana and North Dakota, Measured Progress and Smarter Balanced have been closely tied, with Measured Progress working as a testing contractor for the larger SBAC. Under those partnerships, Measured Progress uses a Smarter Balanced delivery platform to issue its tests.
North Dakota, in fact, is seeking its compensation from Smarter Balanced, rather than Measured Progress.
Gabbianelli said Tuesday that to her knowledge, Smarter Balanced would not be involved with Measured Progress in Maine.
In June, Measured Progress laid off about 50 employees, according to the New Hampshire paper Foster’s Daily Democrat. That came after 40 layoffs in October 2014. Measured Progress CEO Martin Borg told the newspaper that the layoffs were meant to make the company more competitive in a tumultuous standardized testing industry.
Like the test before it, Measured Progress exams would be based on Common Core standards for math and English language arts, which were adopted into Maine Learning Results in 2011.
“Measured Progress Inc. developed the original Maine Educational Assessment years ago,” said Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley. “While it remains to be seen what test will come out of the company this time around, any test that does not provide concrete information to instruct teachers’ lessons to better help their students is a test that takes time away from learning.”
Kilby-Chesley said she hopes the voices of teachers and parents who raised concerns about the previous tests have been heard and will be taken into account as the state works with Measured Progress to develop the new assessment.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.