LINCOLN — Nebraska is breaking with its academic testing contractor and heading in a new direction.

The state will use computer-adaptive testing to evaluate math, English language arts and science skills of students in grades 3 through 8 in the public schools.

Computer-adaptive tests adjust questions to a student’s ability level, which can provide a quicker assessment of the student’s proficiency. When a student answers correctly, the difficulty is increased. Answer wrong and the difficulty ratchets down.

The State Board of Education voted 8-0 Friday to approve the $6.4 million contract with Northwest Evaluation Association for the 2017-18 school year.

The current tests are provided by Data Recognition Corp. and are called Nebraska State Accountability or NeSA. Those tests are not computer-adaptive.

The new testing method could be deployed as early as next year.

“We’re pretty sure it can’t be done in one year, but we’re hoping two — maybe one,” said Valorie Foy, the state’s director of assessment.

State officials awarded Northwest Evaluation a one-year contract, beginning July 1, with options to renew for up to four additional years. Over five years the company could get close to $29 million to test students in Nebraska public schools.

Northwest Evaluation Association was among six bidders vying for the contract. Other bidders included the current contractor, Data Recognition.

After experiencing computer problems with the writing test under Data Recognition, Nebraska officials made it clear that they wanted reliability in the next contract.

They also said they wanted assessments that would test the state academic standards “at higher depth of knowledge” and include rigorous questions that are better at assessing higher-order thinking and at engaging students.

Many Nebraska districts already use one of Northwest Evaluation’s products: the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP test. It, too, is a computer-adaptive assessment.

Data Recognition Corp. still will be involved in Nebraska testing, providing alternate assessments under a one-year, $1.6 million contract approved Friday. Those assessments are for children with severe cognitive disabilities.

The board also approved contracting with ACT for a second year of 11th-grade accountability testing at a cost of $1.7 million. Officials said the test was well-received this year, the first year of statewide administration., 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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