University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

PARCC in Arkansas: Moving Forward

In The View from the OEP on July 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

parccThe last time we reported about PARCC, several Arkansas public schools had participated in field testing for PARCC and the field testing was reported to have gone well. However, in a recent article from Politico, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education stated that Arkansas may choose NOT to use PARCC for next year’s roll-out of its first year of Common Core-aligned testing. So, what’s going on with this surprising statement??

Lawsuit in New Mexico

Interestingly, the back story on this announcement begins in New Mexico. According to Education Week, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has filed a lawsuit in the New Mexico state court that argues that the contract for Common Core-aligned testing was awarded to Pearson in an illegal process that benefited Pearson. The PARCC contract awarded to Pearson calls for the company to develop test items, deliver the test, report the results, and analyze student performance.

The dispute began in November 2013, when New Mexico, on behalf of PARCC member states, released the initial request for PARCC testing proposals. In December 2013, the AIR filed a protest with New Mexico state officials regarding the request for bids, arguing that the Pearson was shown favoritism because the request tied assessment in the first year of testing with work in the years to follow, which created a “bundling of work” that favors Pearson. Pearson had already developed a content-delivery platform that would allow them to meet the “bundling” requirement. NM rejected AIR’s protest, stating that it was not filed within the required time frame. In response, the AIR filed an appeal in state court, asking a judge to overturn the state’s decision, declare the process of awarding the contract invalid, block it from going forward, and order that the initial bid be restructured and reissued in a non-biased way.

pearson1Money, money, money

Due to the fact that AIR claimed the bidding process to be unfair, they chose not to bid. In the end, Pearson was the only bidder and won the contract. How much money is at stake? James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract, has stated that the size of the PARCC contract is “unprecedented” by the standards of the U.S. testing industry. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are members of PARCC and this totals around 5.5-10 million students that will be tested on an annual basis. The projected cost for per-student testing is about $24. Thus, this contract is estimated to be worth between $132 million-$240 million. Mason stated that he could not provide an exact dollar amount because it would depend on factors such as how many students and states end up participating and whether they opt for computerized or paper-and-pencil tests.

How does Arkansas fit in?

Politico recently reported about “a new twist in Common Core wars,” which is the widespread disagreement at the state level over testing contracts. The article discussed the AIR lawsuit and predicted that the dispute could last for months and may result in PARCC’s inability to administer exams in the 2014-15 school year. The article then quotes Kimberly Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education, who stated that if the lawsuit is not resolved by mid-July, that Arkansas plans to use an alternative form of testing than PARCC.

Most Recent Update

However, on July 3rd, Education Week reported that New Mexico State Purchasing Agent Lawrence O. Maxwell ruled against the AIR, stating that the bidding process for PARCC testing was structured carefully, and not in a biased way. Unless the AIR appeals this decision, Pearson will be free to move forward with test development and proceed on schedule.

Jon Cohen, president of the AIR’s assessment division, told Education Week that his organization had not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. However, from other statements by Cohen, an appeal does not seem extremely likely. Cohen advised that it is not the AIR’s intention to put PARCC in a position where it may not be able to administer tests next year and also stated, “It’s in the country’s interest for PARCC to survive and be healthy…We don’t want to derail the PARCC consortium.” Cohen also said that the AIR was willing for Pearson to receive the contract for the first year or two, but then would like to see the contract opened back up for bids.

forwardThis week, the Democrat-Gazette reported that the dispute in New Mexico has been “resolved” and that PARCC testing will be moving forward. The Arkansas Department of Education had previously set this Wednesday (July 9) as a deadline to decide whether to begin steps to solicit bids and award its own contract to another company who would produce Common Core-aligned exams. Staff from the ADE will report on PARCC at the State Board of Education meeting this Thursday.

In conclusion, with this favorable outcome for PARCC in the resolution of the lawsuit in New Mexico, it seems likely that Arkansas will be using PARCC exams in the upcoming school year, but this was a near-miss and a situation worth following. We at the OEP will keep you updated!



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