- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin education officials said Thursday that they selected a former Republican legislator’s company to produce a shorter, cheaper test to replace the statewide public school Badger Exam.

The state Department of Public Instruction said it signed a letter of intent with Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation to produce the new Wisconsin Forward Exam.

The online test will cover English language arts and math for students in grades three through eight and science for students in grades four, eight and 10. Students will take the new test this spring. High school students in grades nine through 11 will continue to take separate assessments produced by ACT, the company that produces the well-known college entrance exam.

DPI said state educators will be involved in developing the questions and the test will be shorter than the Badger Exam, which took students as much as four-and-a-half hours to finish when they took it for the first and last time last spring.

The agency hasn’t entered into a contract with DRC yet, but department spokesman John Johnson said the deal will likely call for the state to pay $63 million over 10 years. He said the money will go toward developing the test, upgrading its application software and changing the test’s questions from year to year. That’s about $40 million less than the state’s 10-year, $104 million deal with Educational Testing Services for the Badger Exam, Johnson said.

Another agency spokesman, Tom McCarthy, said DRC beat out ACT and Pearson for the contract.

Susan Engeleiter, DRC’s CEO and president, served in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate in the 1970s and 1980s as a Republican.

The state Department of Administration, which is controlled by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, runs the state procurement process. Agency spokesman Cullen Werwie said DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, who is officially nonpartisan, chose DRC.

A voicemail left with DRC seeking comment on the decision wasn’t returned.

The Badger Exam replaced the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam. The test was aligned with the Common Core standards, which are academic benchmarks developed by governors and state education leaders that spell out what skills students in each grade should master in reading and math. President Barack Obama’s administration backed the standards and developed incentives for states to adhere to them. Republican lawmakers have criticized the standards, branding them a federal mandate.

The Badger Exam’s rollout last spring was messy, with testing delayed after a writing portion of the English section was deleted and a key interactive feature was dropped because it didn’t work properly. The test, which took students four to four-and-a-half hours to complete, was widely criticized by parents, school administrators and lawmakers.

Walker included provisions in the state budget requiring DPI to adopt a new test.

An aide to Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, chairman of the state Assembly’s education committee, said Thiesfeldt was pleased that DPI had found a vendor but didn’t know much about DRC and planned to study both the company and the new test.

Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican from Ripon who chairs the Senate’s education committee, said the test should give parents and education officials an idea of how kids improve year-by-year. But he said he’s disappointed that the test results won’t offer a good comparison with other states’ children because the setup and questions will be unique to Wisconsin.

“That’s just the way life is. It’ll work,” Olson said. “We need one test and stick to it so we have longevity.”

Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, said the organization was pleased that the process has started for developing a new test and educators will be involved in setting it up.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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