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Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation has landed a five-year, $25 million contract to develop reading and math assessments for the state of Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development announced Monday that it would drop out of the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and issued a "notice of intent" to award the contract to KU. That means other vendors who bid on the project have 10 calendar days from the date of the notice to protest the decision before it becomes official.
"This is huge news for Kansas," said Marianne Perie, co-director of CETE.
The Kansas State Board of Education made a similar decision last month. Perie said adding the contract with Alaska will make the project more cost-effective for both states.
"With Kansas and Alaska, we can find efficiencies," she said. "We can build things for both states so each state spends only half as much as they would if they were doing it by themselves."
She said the decision by Alaska also helps position CETE as a more cost-effective, and politically safer, alternative to the two multi-state groups, which have become the target of criticism by some conservative activist groups opposed to the Common Core standards.
"Lots of vendors are positioning themselves to be that person," Perie said. "We're still a small enough shop, we couldn't take on 20 states. We're not there. We've been very selective about which proposals we even bid on. We want something we know is a reasonably sized state that we can work with, and that can be compatible with Kansas because Kansas is our home."
Perie said that while Alaska has not adopted the official Common Core standards, their standards are very similar to the Common Core, and so many of the same testing items can be used by both states.
"There are things like reading passages specific to Kansas — talking about the plains, talking about Wichita — that for Alaska would be about the water, or the animals there, or whatever," she said. "We need some contextual passages to test reading skills on. But the kinds of items we're asking are the same."
In Kansas, CETE is developing a "transitional" test aligned to the Common Core standards for reading and math. Students throughout the state will take those tests in the spring.
Starting in 2015, the center will launch a full-scale test that will go beyond the straight multiple-choice questions that have been used in the past, and instead use "technology-enhanced" testing items that require students to perform more complicated tasks and use higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills.