The California Board of Education on Thursday selected the Educational Testing Service to continue administering the state's mammoth testing program.
The New Jersey-based ETS, which for three years has produced and distributed exams taken annually by nearly 5 million California students, would continue its work through the 2008-09 school year under the plan.
The company tentatively pegged the cost at nearly $170 million, although the final price still needs to be negotiated.
State officials said they chose ETS over three other large test publishers because it submitted the most comprehensive plan for administering a variety of exams, including those tied to California's academic standards and others for students with disabilities.
"They are extremely responsive," said Deb Sigman, the state's testing director.
California is the largest educational market in the country. With 8,000 schools, its sheer size makes it a lucrative prize for publishers who sell testing materials and textbooks.
The demand is only growing, driven by the federal No Child Left Behind education law, which requires annual testing in grades three through eight and testing once in high school.
California requires students in grades two through 11 to take annual tests that are linked to academic standards.
ETS already creates those exams, and distributes and scores them. The test publisher also produces tests for students with cognitive disabilities.
Separately, the company administers the state's high school exit exam. That contract costs $13 million a year.
The volume of testing has upped the ante for companies vying for California's multimillion-dollar educational contracts.
"There is tremendous pressure on publishers to produce high-quality [materials] more quickly and in much greater volume than they ever did before," said Brian Stecher, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corp. and a specialist in school assessment and accountability.
State officials said that ETS has established itself as a reliable contractor capable of producing accurate data.
Under the new plan, ETS will administer state testing in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Its current contract carries it through 2006.
The company beat out Harcourt Assessment, Pearson Educational Measurement and CTB/McGraw-Hill for the contract, although McGraw-Hill will play a role as a subcontractor in the ETS deal, according to state records.
The proposals were vetted by panels of teachers, school district testing directors, data management specialists and others.
State officials must still hammer out details of the contract, including the final price.
"We're gratified that the board and the [education] department recognized our performance over the last three years, the fact that we were able to deliver this program without any mistakes in student scores," said John Oswald, of the ETS.