SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly a year after the state of Utah canceled a contract with a standardized test company, the State School Board is being sued for failure to pay more than $2.6 million in outstanding invoices.

Questar Assessment Inc., a Minnesota company, filed the lawsuit in Utah’s 3rd District Court on Tuesday, alleging the Utah State Board of Education agreed to pay the invoices in question, even as they negotiated the cancellation of what was to be a 10-year contract because of technical issues that prevented thousands of students from finishing the yearly assessments required by the federal government.

“Despite adequate performance, USBE alleged deficiencies,” the lawsuit states. “Questar and USBE reached a mutual agreement to reduce the amount invoiced to USBE for specific line items on the contract for the months of February through August of 2019.”

The state owns and developed the RISE test. The board’s $44.5 million dollar contract with Questar was for the technological platform to administer RISE — which is an acronym for Readiness, Improvement, Success and Empowerment — to students in grades 3 through 8.

Each year, students are supposed to take a language arts and math test using an online, multi-stage adaptive test. In fourth grade, science was added to the subjects students were tested on, and in grades 5 and 8 students completed a writing assessment.

But when the test was rolled out in April 2019, nearly a month later than planned, there were a number of technical issues ranging from missing scores, to students not being able to access the test, to some teachers questioning the validity of the results. The issues led the State School Board to exclude the assessments in annual grades for each school.

The state board also directed staff to add a disclaimer on the Utah School Report Card website that notes interruptions in RISE testing last spring, along with links to reports on three analyses of the data.

A report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General in the fall of 2019 questioned the validity of the data provided, and said the issues would impact teacher evaluations and federal grant money, both of which are based on standardized test scores.

The lawsuit asserts that Questar fulfilled its obligations, did so on time, and that when the two parties met to negotiate a discount because of technical issues, Utah officials agreed to pay a reduced rate for invoices from February 2019 to August 2019. The contract was terminated June 7, 2019.

View Comments

In August 2019, State School Board officials sent a letter to Questar seeking $6.75 million in liquidated damages related to failures in the original contract. While the Utah Attorney General’s Office said the board would use those damages to resolve the unpaid invoices, Questar’s suit asserts it “is not liable for liquidated damages under the contract.”

Despite the state’s complaints and the quick termination of the contract, Questar maintains that it delivered what it promised and should be paid.

“Questar performed its obligations under the contract for over a year,” the lawsuit asserts. “During that time, Questar met several significant performance requirements. Questar successfully ensured students and schools using interim or benchmark assessments received reports. It also provided a data set that was independently evaluated to include valid data that could be used to meet federal accountability requirements.”

The two parties participated in a mediation in April, but were unable to reach a resolution. The lawsuit also seeks damages in excess of $300,000 and attorneys fees.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.