Policy & High-Stakes Testing

Nebraska Department of Ed Signs with New Provider for Most Online Testing

The Nebraska Department of Education is mixing up how it handles high-stakes testing in coming years. The agency is making the change after suffering through several years of problems with its online testing systems. In 2014, the department decided to pitch the previous year's grade 8 and 11 writing tests after experiencing "computer glitches" where about 3 percent of state test-takers couldn't log in, lost connectivity, lost essays or couldn't submit their work. Then in 2016 other problems hit students from hundreds of schools, including an inability to log in and loss of access to the online dictionary or spellchecker.

In both years the department was working with long-time contractor Data Recognition Corp., a Minnesota company, on developing and administering the tests.

Last week the agency decided to parse up the work among two contractors.

  • The Northeast Evaluation Association (NWEA) will deliver "general assessment services" for grades 3-8, in a five-year, $29 million contract that starts with the 2017-2018 school year; and
  • Data Recognition will continue to be the provider for alternate assessment services for students with profound disabilities in grades 3-8 and 11 in a five-year, $6.7 million contract that begins in the same timeframe.

The agency had already decided to move grade 11 students off state accountability assessments and have them take the ACT as a replacement for assessments in reading, math, science and writing. That contract is worth $1.7 million a year.

An article in the Lincoln Journal-Star quoted education department members as saying that as part of the change they wanted to begin issuing adaptive tests, in which students' individual testing experiences differ depending on how they answer specific questions. With the shift in testing companies, the agency is also hoping to get test results into the hands of educators faster and to provide assessments that can be used throughout the year to measure student progress.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.