New tests coming to Utah schools
Education • Computer assessments will better measure kids' abilities, officials say.
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The Criterion Referenced Tests most Utah students take each spring will soon be replaced with a new $39 million computer testing system designed to better pinpoint students' needs, state education officials announced Monday.

A state school board appointed committee has decided to accept a bid from the American Institutes for Research to build a new computer-adaptive assessment system, which will test students on Utah's new Common Core academic standards.

Students will take the tests on computers, and the tests will adapt to students' individual levels as they take them. For example, if a student answers a question wrong the next question will be easier, and if a students answers a question correctly, the next question will be more difficult.

"We know that computer adaptive testing gives you more precise, accurate measures of a student's ability ... much more so than a fixed form," said John Jesse, director of assessment and accountability at the State Office of Education.

The system will include a new test that all schools will be required to give in the spring; optional fall and winter tests; as well as optional smaller tests that teachers could give daily, weekly or monthly to help gauge students' progress.

"We think Utah now is in an incredible place to move forward with a top notch assessment system," said Judy Park, state associate superintendent.

Jesse said the system will work on everything from 10-year-old computers to the latest iPad tablets. Park said it's not yet certain when Utah schools will begin using the new tests, but they'll continue to use the old ones at least through spring 2013.

The committee chose the American Institutes for Research to create the tests from among 13 vendors who responded to the state office's request for proposals, Park said. The state office will pay for the tests over the next several years with $6.7 million a year set aside by the legislature along with savings of more than $4 million a year from no longer giving Criterion Referenced Tests (CRTs), Jesse said.

The bid from the American Institutes for Research earned the highest technical score of all the bids and was the third lowest in cost, said Michael Rigby, a purchasing agent for the state office.

The American Institutes of Research is a Washington D.C.-based not-for-profit. It's the only organization already delivering statewide adaptive tests approved for use under federal education law, which requires all states to give end-of-year tests to hold schools accountable, said Martell Menlove, state deputy superintendent.

The state school board had decided to request proposals for the system earlier this year after withdrawing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states that was awarded federal dollars to develop a common testing system. The board however, decided to drop out of that consortium, after months of pressure from some conservatives who worried the state's involvement would lead to federal intrusion into Utah schools.

Other bidders included ACT, Inc.; Pearson; Kansas University Center for Research, Inc.; Riverside Publishing and others.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker