The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) exams will be administered online only beginning in 2015 under the terms of the state's newly signed, $33 million contract with Pearson, one the nation's largest standardized-test scorers.
Pearson was awarded a three-year contract with the Minnesota Department of Education to administer the MCAs — standardized state tests — to students in the third through seventh grades, as well as in the eighth and 10th grades.
Currently, most students take MCA science and math exams online. The reading test, however, is largely administered on paper.
Department officials have signaled their intent to make all standardized tests online because, they say, that gives teachers more immediate feedback.
So far, however, Minnesota students' experience with online standardized tests has been a mixed bag.
An estimated 15,000 students from 400 state schools experienced online testing problems over two days last April, according to department reports. In some cases, student weren't able to log on to take their MCAs. In other cases, the sessions would time out early.
Consequently, the relationship between the department and its current testing vendor, American Institutes for Research (AIR), deteriorated as both sides flung accusations at the other. AIR did not seek to renew its $61 million contract.
Pearson was the vendor for the MCAs before AIR. During that tenure, a scoring error delayed the results of the science test, while in 2000, a mistake led to thousands of Minnesota students being told they had failed the math test when they had actually passed the exam.
"The state has a very specific process for evaluating and selecting vendors of this size," Education Department spokesman Josh Collins said in a prepared statement.
"We evaluated the proposals based on the criteria set forth in the request for proposal, and Pearson was the successful responder."