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Minnesota to pay student testing company $33.8M

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State officials have selected a company known for a few past troubles to administer standardized tests as part of a three-year, $33.8 million deal, the Pioneer Press reports.

The Minnesota Department of Education tapped Pearson to oversee the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs. The tests measure student proficiency in reading, math and science for third- through seventh-graders. In addition, the deal includes the administration of new tests for eighth- and 10th-graders. The state is in the process of taking all student proficiency exams online by 2015.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a critic of some standardized testing, has accused Pearson of "poor-quality items, scoring errors, computer system crashes and missed deadlines." The group notes that Pearson has been sued and fined for testing administration problems.

In Minnesota, results of a student science test given by Pearson in 2010 were delayed due to a scoring error, and thousands of students' math tests were not scored correctly in 2000 due to a Pearson mistake, the Pioneer Press notes.

A company representative declined to comment to the newspaper. Department of Education officials say the company was chosen after a "thorough evaluation process that included both district and MDE personnel."

Minnesota had a troubled relationship with its current testing vendor, American Institutes for Research, or AIR. Students in the spring of 2013 at several times were unable to finish tests due to computer glitches and slowdowns. Students were given more time to take the tests, and ultimately, a state consultant said the problems had no effect on student scores.

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