A New Mexico judge has ruled that state officials must review a protest filed by a Washington, D.C.-based assessment organization prior to moving forward with what could be a lucrative contract awarded to Pearson by the PARCC Common Core assessment consortium.
Sean Cavanagh at Education Week reported that the ruling, issued Tuesday by Judge Sarah M. Singleton of the Santa Fe First Judicial District, raises concerns about how the services described in the contract, which include test delivery and item development, are to be implemented should the protest by American Institutes for Research (AIR) and other legal actions not be resolved in favor of New Mexico state officials, who oversaw the bidding for states in the PARCC test consortium.
Overruling the objections of New Mexico officials, the judge decided that AIR’s protest was submitted in an appropriate and timely manner. She also said that the request for proposals brought forward by New Mexico officials was “ambiguous” regarding where protests against the bidding process were to be submitted.
As Breitbart News previously reported, the contract awarded to Pearson, the world’s largest education company, was described by James Mason, a Mississippi Department of Education state leader for PARCC who was a member of the negotiating team for the Pearson contract, as one of “unprecedented scale.”
PARCC state officials said that though a number of other education companies had inquired about the consortium’s request for proposals for the project, the fact that Pearson ultimately was the only bidder was not an outcome that should draw questions about the soundness of PARCC’s process.
That statement, however, was challenged when AIR filed its protest that alleged an unfair and biased bidding process on the PARCC contract.
In its complaint to the state, AIR also argued that the partnership between PARCC and Pearson created a conflict of interest. As Education Week explained:
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.
Furthermore, AIR claims that the PARCC request for proposals created a “bundling of work” in that it tied assessment services, to be provided in the first year of test administration, with additional services in subsequent years, a situation that could restrict competition unfairly and give Pearson essentially a monopoly on completely different work for the next seven years.
As a result of the judge’s ruling, the state’s process for reviewing protests of contract awards will be reviewed, and the Pearson contract will not proceed until a decision is made on AIR’s protest. The judge only ruled on the timeliness of AIR’s protest.
In a statement to Education Week, Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the New Mexico Education Department, defended his state’s process for awarding the contract to Pearson as “fair and open.” Behrens referred to the protest against the Pearson contract, and its subsequent halt, as “bureaucratic obstructionism.”