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Utah school officials to meet in executive session to discuss RISE contract, performance

Board to review contract options after myriad problems with assessment platform

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The Utah State Board of Education is scheduled to meet in executive session Thursday evening to discuss its contract with RISE vendor Questar and the assessment firm's performance, including whether it should seek damages because of several problems that

The Utah State Board of Education is scheduled to meet in executive session Thursday evening to discuss its contract with RISE vendor Questar and the assessment firm’s performance, including whether it should seek damages because of several problems that plagued the testing this spring.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education is scheduled to meet in executive session Thursday evening to discuss its contract with RISE vendor Questar and the assessment firm's performance, including whether it should seek damages because of several problems that plagued the testing this spring.

The agenda also reserves an opportunity for the board take action on the Questar contract following the closed-door discussion.

Board spokesman Mark Peterson said Monday that the board is going to review the contract and discuss its options moving forward.

"What do we do for this year? What do we do for next year and the year after that?" he said. "The board can do anything between 'We've taken it under advisement' to terminating the contract."

One in-between option would be seeking "liquidated damages" for service interruptions, data delivery issues and data security breaches, some as high as $50,000 a day, according to the contract.

The board's deliberations come after growing concerns that the frequency of problems with the vendor's operating platform may impact the board's ability to use RISE test results for accountability purposes.

While Darin Nielsen, assistant superintendent of student learning, has been the point-person on the assessment program, the assistant attorneys general who advise the State School Board, Bryan Quesenberry and Michelle Beus, are listed as staff for the board's discussion.

"It is a contract issue and the board has some decisions to make. There's a lot to consider. We had one test last year. There's a new test this year. If you terminate the contract then you have another test. There's plenty to think about depending upon what the board wants to do," Peterson said.

Board members said the discussion will center on legal issues related to the contract with Questar, which initially was a minimum of $30 million for five years, with an option for $44 million if the contract was expanded to 10 years. The contract can be terminated with 30 days notice.

RISE assessments are scheduled to be given annually to students in grades three through eight in language arts and math using online multistage adaptive testing. Beginning in fourth grade, science is also tested. In grades five and eight, writing is tested.

RISE is an acronym for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment. RISE was selected by the State School Board last year as a replacement for SAGE testing.

This spring, end-of-year testing was interrupted by several problems. Some districts reported that students received error notices as they attempted to submit completed tests, the system was slow and servers dropped in an out of service.

While some of the problems were localized, there were also statewide interruptions of testing, education officials said.

While district assessment directors reported a number of ongoing challenges this spring, mid-year RISE testing conducted in December, January and February had no service interruptions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, in a letter sent to educators statewide in mid-May, expressed concern about "overall accountability."

"We will be working with third-party evaluators and our Technical Advisory Committee to determine the best recommendations moving forward. The best we could hope for is our analysis determines the interruptions that we’ve experienced did not have a statistically significant impact on the overall data. Another option would be placing an asterisk indicating where there have been testing irregularities that may have skewed the data. The most extreme recommendation would be to scrap accountability results for this year," Dickson wrote.

State School Board staff have been "documenting calls and irregularities each day with regard to the system as a whole, and we continue to analyze the system performance from minute to minute and hour to hour. Assessments windows have been extended in some cases, upon request. We won’t be able to come to an overall conclusion of the overall impact until late this summer, which would allow the board to make official recommendations in September," the superintendent wrote.