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fourth graders file photo

Mendota Elementary School fourth graders work on a math lesson in this 2004 file photo.

State education officials are still weighing bids for a plan to replace a state test that Wisconsin students took for the first and last time earlier this year.

The state budget abolished the use of a test aligned to the Common Core State Standards called the Smarter Balanced exam, which had technical problems and cost the state millions more than anticipated.

What students will take in its place is a question mark, though. The state Department of Public Instruction sought bids for a new test earlier this year, and have not yet picked a winner.

“We’re still waiting for the RFP process to wrap up,” DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said.

According to the Department of Administration, bids were sought for a Web-based exam testing third- through eighth-graders in English and fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders in math and science. A separate bidding process was set up for a new exam to test students in social studies. Daniel Wilson of the DOA said the process remains open.

Wisconsin students, who must be tested annually for the state to get federal funding, will have taken three different tests in as many years.

The state budget also requires the state to provide schools with a menu of tests they can give their students, but only if the federal government gives the OK. Bradley Carl, a researcher at UW-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center, said it’s pretty unlikely that’s going to happen.

“It’s a huge ‘if’ because I have not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that ... it’s a sure thing that there will be federal blessing” for test options, Carl said.

The budget directs VARC to draft a list of three to five alternative tests that could be compared to the state-adopted test, but the center doesn’t get any funding to do so until the federal waiver is approved. Carl said there are likely only three to five tests that would fit the state’s criteria, and speculated that if a test company knew it was already tapped to provide an alternative test, there would be little incentive for it to offer a competitive price.

“I would think you would want some kind of commitment from a test vendor before you made the list,” he added.

Dorie Nolt, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, wouldn’t say whether the department would allow a state to offer more than one test statewide. Instead, she emphasized “uniform statewide assessments.”

“Parents and educators have the right to assessments that give them useful information – which includes the ability to understand what progress students are making in the context of their peers statewide,” she said.

“That helps to ensure that all students are held to the same high standard and that schools are making progress toward closing achievement and opportunity gaps, which is especially important for students living in poverty, racial and ethnic minorities, those with disabilities, those still learning English and other historically underserved groups,” Nolt added. “Uniform statewide assessments in reading and math in ... grades 3 through 8 and high school are a critical part of the information parents and educators need and deserve.”

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