The Nevada Department of Education may terminate its contracts with two vendors administering the state’s online student testing system if they fail to fix a series of computer glitches in the coming weeks.
Since early last week, the glitches have prevented thousands of Nevada public school students from taking the federally mandated assessments — despite Nevada education officials granting the contractors more time to iron out system problems in March.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga sent legal notices to the contractors on Tuesday, declaring that both were in violation of their contracts to deliver the online tests on time.
The notice requires New Hampshire-based Measured Progress to fix the glitches and deliver a working system within 15 days or risk the department terminating its contract.
A separate contract with Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a public organization affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles, requires the firm to fix the problems within 30 days.
The letters also note that the contract violations caused financial damages “in an as-of-yet undetermined, but increasing amount, and (the department) reserves the right to pursue all legal remedies” to recover them.
Smarter Balanced declined an interview request, citing potential litigation, but in an emailed statement cited its commitment to providing “a quality testing experience.”
“The State of Nevada is following the grievance procedure outlined by the Smarter Balanced” contract, the statement reads. “We are actively engaged in an effort to find a workable solution so that Nevada students will have the opportunity to take the assessment.”
Measured Progress planned to release a statement on Wednesday but had not done so by 5 p.m.
According to Erquiaga’s letters, Smarter Balance had requested two additional weeks in March to continue working on the online testing system because the software was not performing well enough.
“Despite the delay in testing dates, (Measured Progress) has been wholly unable to perform its obligations under the contract,” Erquiaga added.
An amended contract between Nevada and Measured Progress shows the vendor would have collected more than $7.5 million for its work in fiscal year 2015.
Based on the number of students tested, the annual fees that Smarter Balanced would have collected exceed $1.3 million, according to a separate contract with the organization.
Problems with computerized testing began last week, with many students unable to log into the testing server, losing connection during testing and more.
Measured Progress told state officials that it had addressed the malfunctions with a new server code and reported at least 10,800 students in Nevada took their tests on Friday without interruption.
However, the issues continued when online testing resumed Monday, and Clark County School District officials decided to postpone testing until Thursday.
Similar glitches have hampered online testing in Montana and North Dakota, where education officials have permitted school districts to opt out of the tests or to request paper-and-pencil versions, according to local media reports.
When asked whether technological constraints within the state could have caused the glitches, Judy Osgood, a spokeswoman with the Nevada Department of Education, said no.
“None of the problems are related to district-level technology,” Osgood said. “Our districts and schools have worked hard to get ready for these tests.”
Contact Neal Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton.