A maker of a standardized test will compensate the Missouri school system after results from two exams were deemed unusable and discarded.

Student scores on the tests diverged unnaturally from previous results, leading education officials to conclude that the exams created by Questar Inc. could not be used to measure districts' academic progress year-to-year.

Questar will compensate the state and individual districts for the voided Algebra 1 and English 2 end-of-course exams, likely by waiving some costs for tests given this academic year, according to a memo sent to school administrators.

Individual scores from the tests are still available, and can be used to apply for the A+ program, which provides scholarships to students who attend community college or vocational schools. Districts that use the tests to calculate student grades can continue to do so.

Kevin Goddard, superintendent of the Sarcoxie School District, says the tests will still be used to grade students because their performance doesn't depend on scores from previous years.

But he voiced disappointment that the scores wouldn't contribute to his district's overall performance evaluation.

“Teachers felt like they would've done well, so they're unhappy about it,” he said.

In a typical year, standardized test scores shift 1 or 2 percent compared with the year before, said Chris Neale, head of the office of quality schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In some cases, results from the two tests changed by upward of 7 percent.

“This really was a big, unexpected change,” he said. “We immediately questioned it.”

While the shift wasn't as pronounced across the board, it stood out in small districts and districts that offer the Algebra 1 test to eighth-graders.

A panel of technical advisers to DESE agreed, telling the department that the test results are not comparable to previous years and should be withheld. Standardized tests are intended to offer roughly the same challenge to students every year, a consistency that should make them fair measures of school performance over time.

The removal of the scores leaves the state with less information to calculate its annual performance reports, which give each district a single score based on factors such as test scores and attendance rates. In cases where the test scores have been deemed unusable, DESE will replace them with students' scores from the previous year.

Roughly 13 percent of those taking the tests in the two affected subject areas were affected, for a total of about 65,000 tests per subject. In order to meet federal requirements for accountability, the state gives 27 separate standardized tests each year. Tests in each content area are given upward of 450,000 times per year.

Taken together, the tests cost about $3 million a year. Neale declined to say how much the state could be compensated for the two discarded tests because negotiations with Questar are underway. He said the cost of this year's tests will be waived for individual districts up to the amount they paid last year.

The discarded scores are a hitch in a state testing machinery that will be replaced entirely next year, when the state moves to a new set of learning standards and new standardized tests. In 2016, the state legislature ordered the state to develop its own standards instead of basing them on guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Education.

But it is the second hitch this year for Minnesota-based Questar. In April, the company's servers were overwhelmed by traffic from end-of-course exams, which are administered online, leading to interruptions to 14,000 tests, a small fraction of the total.

Questar did not return a request for comment.

In a memo to administrators, state education officials said the company has agreed to institute quality control measures that will address both problems.

Educational Testing Service, which owns the GRE tests and others, and which purchased Questar this year, will review the results of the discarded Algebra 1 and English 2 exams and audit the program overall.

Before each test begins, Questar agreed to check that it has sufficient bandwidth before each test, and it will provide daily reports while testing is underway.

Neal said the additional measures have boosted DESE's confidence in upcoming tests.

“We certainly are looking forward to this year with greater confidence than we had a few weeks ago,” he said.

Questar Assessment Inc., a K-12 test-maker, says its “technological innovations continue to set the standard for scalability and reliable online testing performance to meet the specific needs of states and districts at an unprecedented value,” according to a statement by ETS.

Its three-year contract with the state, now in the second year, allows the state to end the contract before each school year. State officials have not yet OK'd a new agreement with Questar, which will detail the state's compensation for the discarded score and set a date for the state to consider renewing the contract for a third year, according to Sarah Potter, DESE communications coordinator.

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