SBAC grading contract worth $12.1 million

Over three years, Idaho will pay $12.1 million to the vendors that have struggled to grade the state’s new standardized test.

The vendor group, headed by American Institutes for Research, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, has missed deadlines for grading the exams, aligned to the new Idaho Core Standards. The State Department of Education has released statewide test results, but district-by-district scores will not be released until October. But the AIR group was the low bidder for Idaho’s testing job — and has secured similar contracts in several other states.

Idaho Education News filed a public records request for the five bids for the grading contract, and then compared the costs.

According to Idaho Education News’ analysis, the AIR consortium’s bid came in considerably below its competitors. Measured Progress, a Dover, N.H.-based nonprofit, bid $13.7 million; McGraw-Hill of Columbus, Ohio bid just under $14 million; Data Recognition Corp. of Maple Grove, Minn., bid $16.1 million; and Educational Testing Service, a Princeton, N.J., nonprofit, bid $16.8 million.

The numbers aren’t complete. The State Department of Education heavily redacted McGraw-Hill’s bid — blacking out 30 line items. But based on the cost figures that the state released, the company’s bid was still well above the winning AIR bid.

The job of comparing the bids was given to a multiagency consortium from Idaho, Hawaii, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia and the Virgin Islands. The six entities are members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — one of the groups developing tests aligned to states’ Common Core standards.

The five states and the Virgin Islands banded together in 2014 to solicit bids for grading the SBAC tests, in hopes of matching the buying power enjoyed by larger states, said Mike Middleton, director of select assessment for Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

In the spring of 2014, the group began soliciting bids and fielding questions from would-be bidders. Proposals were due in April 2014. AIR wasn’t the top-rated bidder at each step of the review, Middleton said, but by July 2014, all six entities agreed to recommend AIR’s proposal. AIR received all six contracts, but it was up to the individual states to negotiate their own contract terms.

This bidding process was unorthodox, Middleton said, since it brought together several entities with a “mishmash” of experience with the vendors. “It was a positive outcome, to bring disparate parties together.”

However, the first year of Idaho’s AIR contract proved turbulent — as the state launched the SBAC exam, also known as the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

Students took the SBAC between March 30 and May 22. The vendors were supposed to provide test results within 10 days. But that deadline came and went without results, and schools closed for the summer without knowing how their students fared on the exams. The grading delays were caused by technological glitches, and a shortage of teachers hired to grade the math and English language arts tests.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra — who inherited the AIR contract from her successor, Tom Luna — has declined to seek penalties over the delays.

As a result of the delays, districts are trying to figure out how to get test results to parents before the start of the new school year. The Boise School District is sending out results, at a cost of at least $10,000; this week, the Blaine County School District said it would follow suit.

While the state is not releasing district-by-district results until fall, some districts are divulging numbers on their own. The West Ada School District has posted its scores online — and Idaho’s largest school district said its scores beat the state averages, which, in turn, had exceeded projections.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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