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Minnesota In Market For New Student Testing Company

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota and its main student testing contractor are parting ways after a rocky run.

Documents made public late Wednesday reveal that Washington, D.C.-based testing company American Institutes for Research has decided against seeking renewal of its $61 million contract with the state Department of Education. The state is soliciting bidders to replace the contractor after its three-year deal expires next year.

The decision comes amid frustration over technical glitches that affected tests taken by thousands of students last spring. Online testing problems disrupted the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments at some 400 schools last April, according to department reports.

Education department officials will not pursue penalties against the contractor, but they have documented several problems.

In September, Deputy Education Commissioner Jessie Montana described “a history of concerns” the agency has had with AIR. The issues range from problems with test question design and scoring to inability to meet deadlines and poor communication.

“This list is by no means exhaustive, and (the Education Department) continues to investigate additional complaints,” Montano wrote in a 14-page memo.

Company officials say problems rest with the department.

An early October rebuttal written by Jon Cohen, director of assessment for AIR, said the vendor has been coping with poor decision-making and unreasonable demands.

“The current situation allows individual (Education Department) staff members to make and change decisions without accountability,” Cohen wrote. “For these reasons, we chose not to bid on your testing program.”

The partners still have one more round of testing to get through, which will be conducted next spring. Both the state and AIR said they are committed to a smooth process.

“Everything is going to be fine, probably better than in the past,” Cohen said Wednesday. “We all have the same goal of making sure we have the best testing season possible.”

Minnesota has moved more toward online tests because teachers and students like the quick feedback they provide. Most students took online assessments in math last year and some districts piloted online reading tests.

State lawmakers are pushing the education agency to meet a goal of giving nearly all state assessments online by 2015. Education officials are in the process of reviewing bids for the new, larger online testing contract.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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