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Utah is about to reap an unexpected windfall from the questions it wrote for the new SAGE tests being launched this month in Utah schools.

Florida agreed late last month to pay rental fees that could amount to $5.4 million for test questions that Utah Office of Education wrote and which Florida desperately needs.

Utah Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove told the State Board of Education on Friday that the state education office jumped on the chance of renting out test "items," as the questions are called. He initially thought it might be worth only a few hundred dollars.

"I didn't realize the magnitude," Menlove told the board. "We anticipate there will be other opportunities as significant as this or greater in the future."

The money, he said, will allow Utah to hire teachers over the summer to write even more queries to add to Utah's bank of end-of-year test questions.

The board voted to let the state office entertain overtures from other states in the market for test questions, after briefly flirting with the idea of a robust marketing campaign.

Utah is in a unique position because, as Dave Thomas, vice chairman of the board said, "To a certain extent, we're the only game in town if you're not with one of the consortiums."

The state office, with the help of educators, wrote all but 651 of the 11,783 questions in its bank. They are being used this year in the state's first effort to assess how well students are learning under new Common Core standards for language arts and math. The test also assesses science knowledge. The state got 651 questions in swaps with Hawaii and Delaware.

Utah had been part of a multistate consortium writing test questions, but under pressure from some conservatives, pulled out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in August 2012 and began writing its own.

Florida last year pulled out of the other consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, although it didn't decide to write its own questions until last month. Since Florida's testing on the Common Core standards begins next year, it's in need of test items fast.

"They're kind of renting them out, so to speak, for that first year while they have time to develop their own," Deputy Superintendent Judy Park told the board Friday.

The amount of money Utah makes depends on how many items Florida buys and how many students are asked the questions.

A letter from the contractor that acted as the go-between in the deal, American Institutes for Research (AIR), estimated the value to Utah at $5.4 million.

AIR has the $40 million multi-year contract to develop Utah's SAGE system, and also is the contractor for Florida.

The questions, however, were written by Utah educators and vetted through five committees, including a 15-member parent panel that spent a week last fall scrutinizing questions.

The tests, like the Utah Common Core they're based on, are controversial among some parents. Last week, Park said it will cost Utah $5,000 or $6,000 to replace a question that a high school junior snapped photos of and shared with anti-Common Core blogs.

Menlove and Park said AIR will not get a share of Florida's payments to Utah. "They have no rights to and can't benefit from those items," Park said.

The windfall should largely go to beefing up Utah's bank of test questions, said Menlove, who has asked Park for a budget that would have "almost all this money going to Utah teachers to help us write Utah items for Utah's test."

Twitter: @KristenMoulton —

No more fill-in-the-bubble

The name of Utah's new SAGE tests stands for Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence. Read more about these computer adaptive tests at