Test Company Alleges Pearson Common Core Contract Award Biased, Illegal

The decision to award Pearson, the world’s largest education company, a contract of “unprecedented scale” for a Common Core test project has been challenged by a competitor who contends the award was made through a process that was biased in favor of Pearson.

As reported by Sean Cavanagh at Education Week, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a Washington-based assessment organization, has filed a legal action in New Mexico state court that argues the procedure used by the PARCC Common Core testing consortium was illegal and biased in such a way that only one company – Pearson – could benefit from it.

According to the report, AIR originally filed a protest with New Mexico state officials in December, soon after the request for proposals was issued by the states belonging to the PARCC test consortium. New Mexico brought forward the initial request for proposals for the PARCC testing project on behalf of its consortium member states.

In its letter of protest to New Mexico officials, AIR claimed that the solicitation for bids improperly “bundled” assessment services to be provided in the first year of the tests with work in subsequent years, a practice that unfairly restricts competition and favors Pearson since work after the first year would rely on a content/delivery platform already engineered by Pearson. Such an arrangement would require vendors other than Pearson to develop an assessment system with only cursory information regarding costs, etc.

According to AIR, the “bundled” system would allow Pearson to “transform the advantage it enjoys as the year-one [content/delivery] platform vendor to an advantage for subsequent years of the program.”

In essence, AIR’s legal action argues that as a result of the system used to determine the award, Pearson would end up having a “monopoly on completely different work for the next seven years.”

Officials in New Mexico, however, rejected AIR’s protest, citing that it had not been filed during the required time period.

AIR has now asked a judge to overturn the state’s decision regarding its protest and requested the court to declare as invalid the award process that led to Pearson obtaining the contract. The company is also asking the court to block Pearson’s procurement of the award and order that the initial bid for the test project be restructured.

As Breitbart News reported Monday, James Mason, a Mississippi Department of Education state leader for PARCC, helped negotiate the contract with Pearson and described it as one of “unprecedented scale,” though he did not disclose the contract’s monetary value.

PARCC state officials added that though a number of other education companies inquired about the consortium’s request for proposals for the project, the fact that Pearson ultimately was the only bidder is not an outcome that should draw questions about the soundness of PARCC’s process.

In its complaint, AIR states the organization would have submitted an official proposal for the testing project if it believed the bidding process had been fair. Consequently, Pearson was the only bidder.

In addition, EdWeek explains:

In their complaint to the state, AIR officials also argue that the partnership between PARCC and Pearson creates a potential conflict of interest. Specifically, AIR officials said that if the consortia competes for testing work being procured in other states, PARCC would have an incentive in New Mexico to award work to a contractor it intends to partner with—Pearson—because doing so would improve its ability to compete for similar work in other state markets.

According to EdWeek, Pearson had no comment regarding AIR’s protest over the PARCC procurement process and was not aware of AIR’s legal challenge.

In addition, David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for PARCC, said the consortium had no comment and directed inquiries to New Mexico officials.

On Friday, Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Education, told EdWeek that the work on the PARCC testing project will go forward despite the lawsuit.

“The court has not stayed the procurement and there is no bar to proceeding,” Behrens said. 


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