The Mississippi Board of Education voted today to approve a 10-year, $110.9 million statewide testing contract with Questar Assessment Inc., beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The cost for the first year of the contract is up to $13.3 million.

Minneapolis-based Questar has implemented more than 100 large-scale assessment programs across 19 different states since 1976. The company was selected as the preferred vendor by an 8-person evaluation team that included a district test coordinator, a Harvard data expert, teachers specializing in English Language Arts and Mathematics, district superintendents and a district curriculum director. Mississippi Department of Education representatives presented the proposed contract today to the Board.

“I appreciate the hard work and thoughtful process by the evaluation team in the selection of the assessment vendor. The purpose of annual testing is to measure student growth and learning and to help teachers tailor instruction that meets students’ needs. With this contract, we will be able to provide continuity in our assessments so that school districts can track academic success over time,” said Dr. John Kelly, Board chairman. “Also, the assessment will measure the college and career readiness standards that align with what our teachers have been teaching in the classroom.”

Two other vendors submitted proposals, Data Recognition Corp., and NCS Pearson.

In February, MDE solicited competitive written proposals for the English Language Arts and Mathematics Grades 3 – 8 assessments, end of course assessments in Algebra I and English II, and an optional Geometry and/or Algebra II assessment that are completely aligned to the Mississippi College and Career-Ready Standards (MCCRS) for English Language Arts and Mathematics.  MDE’s primary goal with respect to test design was ensuring that the assessments measure student mastery of the Mississippi standards, and accomplishes this in the most cost-effective way.

MDE required that the test administration be a single end-of-year exam and that tests for each of the components be ready for use in the 2015-16 school year.  The RFP outlined several requirements and uses for the new assessments, including the following:

  • The assessment must have a 3rd party verification that tests are fully aligned to the standards.
  • The tests must include a variety of item types, including multiple choice, constructed response, writing, technology enhanced, and performance tasks.
  • The 3rd Grade ELA assessment will be used for promotion/retention decisions according to current state law. It must measure the five components of reading, including foundational reading skills.
  • Online testing is necessary for the fall of 2015, although some students who need accommodations may require paper and pencil versions.
  • Customized reports are also required.

The new assessment will replace PARCC for the next school year. Mississippi is no longer a member of the PARCC consortium.