Big S.C. Test Contract Goes to DRC, but Questions Remain

Managing Editor

South Carolina has given a $34 million contract to Data Recognition Corporation to administer statewide tests, an award that comes after a tangled dispute between a pair of testing vendors.

But not all of South Carolina’s questions about its statewide tests are resolved yet.

The new award gives DRC a five-year contract to oversee South Carolina’s English/language arts and math tests in grades 3-8. The deal comes after South Carolina’s initial awarding of a statewide contract for that work last year was criticized by DRC for allegedly not allowing a fair process to play out for all bidders.

South Carolina officials initially awarded the contract for statewide testing to the ACT, for $58 million. But DRC filed a protest of that award on a number of grounds.

The vendor, which has headquarters in Minnesota, argued that its rival had failed to answer questions in the state’s initial RFP, including that it did not offer plans to develop achievement levels for students taking the test.

South Carolina’s state procurement officer, Michael Spicer, did not go along with DRC’s protest on a number of grounds, but ultimately agreed with the DRC that the ACT had not been “responsive” in terms of defining how it would set achievement-levels, among other details. Spicer ruled that that the contract with the ACT could go forward the first year, but that it would have to be re-bid for the years after that.

The result: DRC won the re-bid version of the contract, a deal worth $33.6 million.

No Answer on High School Tests

But another big piece of South Carolina’s testing puzzle is still up in the air.

The state did not make an award for testing at the high school level. State reviewers said that bidders for that work did not adequately respond to the state’s RFP.

Specifically, the vendors’ plans did not adequately address the testing needs of students with disabilities; and that the proposals weren’t able to meet the state’s demands for tests delivered both online and on paper, said Ryan Brown, a special assistant to the state superintendent of education, in an interview.

South Carolina is  under pressure to hire a vendor soon. The state’s high school testing is scheduled for this spring. The tight timeframe leaves the state with a couple of options, Brown said.

First, state officials could ask the legislature, which convenes in January, to change state law to allow the state to use a test created by an alternate provider – such as the ACT or the College Board – for this spring.

Or, the state could seek a change in the law that would allow the state to hire one of the companies that submitted a bid that was deemed unresponsive, Brown said. It’s unclear whether that would mean re-bidding an RFP, he added.

A third option is for federal officials to grant South Carolina a waiver from current federal testing requirements – and the state has already moved to seek that flexibility, Brown said. One possibility would be allowing the state to use end-of-course tests in language arts and math to meet federal mandates, he said.

Despite those obstacles, Brown predicted that South Carolina officials would be resolved before the deadlines hit a few months from now.

“We’re confident we’ll have it settled,” he said. “We’ll have a test.”

It’s been a year of big changes for DRC in the testing market. Earlier this year, a longtime giant in the assessment industry, McGraw-Hill Education, announced that it would sell its state, summative testing business, along with a number of other assessment contracts, to DRC.


 

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