Indiana recommends nearly $134M in testing contracts

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An Indiana recommendation to award nearly $134 million to six vendors to run student testing drew fire Wednesday from Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who called the costs "astronomical."

The Indiana Department of Administration posted award letters Wednesday after the end of a bid process to administer Indiana's student assessments through the spring of 2017. The contracts haven't been finalized and could hinge on legislative action.

Ritz said she favors streamlining the tests given to thousands of students but acknowledged that Indiana must comply with state and federal rules.

"I strongly believe that Indiana needs a streamlined system of assessments that come at a reasonable cost to taxpayers," Ritz said.

Ritz said the Department of Education didn't learn of the awards until the bid process had been completed.

The contracts include $38 million to vendor Pearson for the ISTEP+ exam that is taken by about 450,000 students in grades 3 through 8. The test has been administered by CTB/McGraw-Hill and has been marred by testing interruptions in recent years that kicked thousands of students offline during the high-stakes exam, which is used to determine school rankings and assess teacher performance.

Ritz announced in August that she had reached a $3 million settlement with the company over the interruptions, which stemmed from an overloading of CTB's testing servers.

A bill moving through the Legislature would move Indiana from the ISTEP+ exam to a national test called BEST — for "benchmarking excellence student testing" — after June 30, 2016.

One of the bill's sponsors, Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, has said he thinks Indiana would be better off using an "off-the-shelf" set of tests.

Department of Education officials have said such tests won't align with the new academic standards the state crafted after deciding last year to withdraw from the national Common Core standards.

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