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Audit: State testing system had multiple problems before tests were taken

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A new audit says the company administering the state’s RISE testing system was having major problems getting the test up and running long before the first assessment tests were even given to students in April of 2019. (Photo: MGN Online)

A new audit says the company administering the state’s RISE testing system was having major problems getting the test up and running long before the first assessment tests were even given to students in April of 2019. The Utah State Board of Education was noticing the problems but didn’t fire the company until the test had already experienced major failures at schools across the state.

The red flags regarding testing company Questar Assessment were cropping up a year before the tests. Now an audit, released Wednesday by the Legislative Auditor General, shows the USBE, which contracted with Questar for $44 million over 10 years, pushed ahead with the company despite those growing concerns.

During the spring assessments across the state, school after school noticed problems. Utah’s RISE testing system was crashing. Kids couldn’t log on, completed tests were being mysteriously deleted, and in one school, according to the legislative audit, classes had to be canceled.

The audit says in April of 2018, the school board saw that testing in Tennessee, which was also run by Questar, was experiencing widespread outages. Over the next 12 months, Questar failed to deliver computer tools and missed deadlines. By January, the USBE scrambled to organize a meeting with Questar over the mounting list of problems.

The massive failure of the testing forced the USBE to tear up that Questar contract and pen a new, three-year “emergency contract" with the company it had previously used to administer the statewide tests in the future. The move could cost millions, and according to the legislative audit, staff with the USBE have spent nearly 1,300 hours implementing the new system.

In June, Beyond the Books, KUTV’s commitment to education reporting in Utah, pressed the chairman of the USBE, Mark Huntsman, about the Questar contract in light of revelations that the company had problems before Utah hired them.

Chris Jones: "All you have to do is Google Questar, and there is article after article of problems that the company had. Why would the school board pick a company that had those kinds of problems in the past?"

Mark Huntsman: "All of them had little issues and snags.”

Huntsman went on to say that, on paper, Questar seemed like the best choice.

This audit is only preliminary. More information is still flowing into the Auditor General’s office. It could take months before we know the full impact of the testing failure. What we do know is that as many as 3,600 tests taken by Utah students have been lost forever.

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