BOSTON >> State education officials have signed a five-year, $150.8 million contract with a New Hampshire-based organization for the development and administration of a new statewide assessment that students are set to begin taking next spring.
The contract with Measured Progress, the vendor for the existing MCAS exam, calls for the company and its subcontractors to build new tests in English, mathematics and science, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Tuesday. Measured Progress, of Dover, N.H., was one of two vendors who answered a request for responses issued by the department.
Last November, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to develop a hybrid exam, dubbed the "next-generation MCAS," that would draw from both MCAS and PARCC, the test developed by a consortium of states to align to the Common Core curriculum.
The 8-3 vote struck a middle ground after months of debate over which test the state should use, with board members saying at the time that a hybrid exam would allow the state to maintain control over its assessment while capitalizing on the investments Massachusetts has made as a member of the PARCC consortium.
The contract includes test construction and development, scoring, reporting and customer support for schools and districts. The initial round of the new tests will be administered in spring 2017 to grades three through eight, with grade 10 tests coming in later years, according to the department.
Measured Progress, a not-for-profit organization, has been the vendor for the existing MCAS exam since 2005, according to education officials. The test was first administered in 1998.
"This contract will keep Massachusetts in a leadership position by providing an updated and improved MCAS that is a 21st-century assessment," Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said in a statement. "The Next-Generation MCAS will continue the state's focus on critical thinking skills and will be offered in a format that acknowledges technology's role in students' lives, learning and future careers."
Measured Progress is the primary vendor under the contract and will oversee subcontractors. UMass Amherst's Center for Educational Assessment will "provide psychometric support and conduct validity studies," and Pearson Education will "provide online item banking, test management, and test delivery systems via its stable, accessible technology platform and will also support program management, test form creation, scoring, psychometrics and standard setting," according to Measured Progress.
Pearson is the testing contractor for the PARCC exam.
"For over two decades, Massachusetts has set a standard of excellence nationally for the delivery of a rigorous, best-in-class student testing program," Pearson Assessments president Bob Whelan said in a statement. "With this Next-Generation MCAS award, the unique partnership between Pearson and Measured Progress will enable the Commonwealth to preserve that same level of excellence as it develops a more sophisticated, technology-driven measure of the 21st century skills students need to succeed beyond high school."
In his November 2015 recommendation that the state develop a hybrid exam, Chester said Pearson's "testing platform performed extraordinarily well." He described performance of Pearson's call center as "less satisfactory," but said improvements were slated for 2016.
Measured Progress works on assessment programs in 35 states, including "large-scale assessments" in Maine, Rhode Island, South Carolina, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Idaho, according to the organization's website. In 10 states, including Massachusetts, the vendor is involved with both large-scale accountability assessments and classroom assessments.
Last August, Measured Progress agreed to a $1.3 million settlement with the state of Nevada, resolving allegations that the vendor "failed in its obligations to deliver a fully functioning test," after students experienced problems with the online test portal, according to Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt's office.
The settlement said "a majority of Nevada students were unable to successfully complete" their March 2015 assessments, which involved test materials developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and delivered by Measured Progress. Nevada officials announced a separate $1.8 million settlement with Smarter Balanced last month.
In December 2015, the Maine Department of Education signed a $4.14 million contract with Measured Progress and subcontractors for its 2016 assessments, with the option to renew the contract for up to nine additional one-year terms. In a press release announcing the contract, acting Maine Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley said his state "has had a strong relationship with Measured Progress for decades."
A 12-member Massachusetts vendor selection committee chose Measured Progress as the testing vendor over American Institutes for Research and subcontractor Data Recognition Corporation.
The total contract cost of $150.8 million over five years for the next-generation MCAS is "consistent with prior state assessments at about $30 million" annually, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which said a combination of state and federal funds will be used to cover the costs.
The new test will be designed to be administered by computer, but a paper-and-pencil version will also exist. Fourth and eighth grade students will take the computer version next year, with the goal that all tests be given by computer by 2019, the department said.