Troubled SBAC grading job carries $3 million price tag

When this year’s job is finally done, Idaho taxpayers could wind up paying about $3 million for the results from the state’s new standardized tests.

And despite a series of glitches and grading delays, and added costs at the district level, the state has no plans to seek penalties from its vendors.

Idaho Education News obtained contract and cost information on the troubled grading process — a job that remained unfinished Thursday, with some 3,400 tests still not graded.

From March 30 through May 22, schools administered the new online exam — the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced, widely known as SBAC. But with the grades still on hold, and schools closed for the summer, districts will have to scramble to get the results in the hands of parents. That might not happen until August and September.

Under the state’s contract, test results were supposed to be turned in within 10 days.

The exact cost to the taxpayers isn’t exactly clear.

The vendors that received the grading contract — American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C., and Measurement Inc. of Durham, N.C. — originally estimated first-year costs of close to $3.5 million. But that cost was based on projections that the vendors would have to deliver and grade nearly 367,000 SBAC tests in math and English language arts. That actual figure is expected to come in at about 313,000 — which, in turn, could reduce the state’s costs to roughly $3 million.

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For districts, the grading delays could carry unexpected costs. The Boise School District is planning to mail SBAC scores later this summer, at a price of $10,000, not counting staff time.

Nonetheless, the State Department of Education still has no intention of seeking penalties from the vendors. The department’s goal is to “identify the problems and fix them going forward,” spokesman Jeff Church said Thursday.

Districts still have several options to deliver the test results. They can hand them out during registration in August or upload the results to online parent portals.

“Many districts have incurred these mailing fees in the past,” Church said. “There is no state requirement to mail them, some districts choose to do this.”

AIR and Measurement Inc. are completing the first year of a three-year contract to administer and grade SBAC exams in Idaho. The estimated costs are $3.3 million in 2015-16 and $3.5 million in 2016-17. These estimates hinge largely on the number of tests, and anticipates a need for nearly 382,000 exams in 2016-17.

The SBAC is administered to third- through eighth-graders and 10th graders. The test is optional in ninth and 11th grade.

The AIR-Measurement Inc. consortium was one of five bidders on the contract, beating out Data Recognition Corp., CTB/McGraw-Hill, Measured Progress and Educational Testing Service. AIR “clearly had the best price” of the five bidders, Church said Thursday. The state’s request for proposals called for a price tag of $17.75 per student test; AIR said it could produce scores at a price of $6.17 to $10.59 per test, depending on grade level and exam topic.

Idaho Education News has submitted a public records request for the unsuccessful proposals.

The SBAC is a new online assessment aligned to the Idaho Core Standards. Schools delivered the exam as a dry run in 2014. But this is the first year results will be used to gauge student growth and assess school performance.