A New Mexico judge has rejected a closely-watched challenge made against one of the nation’s two main common-core testing consortia, in a major victory for supporters of the ambitious assessment effort led by a coalition of states.
District court Judge Sarah M. Singleton, in a decision filed this week, found that the American Institutes for Research lacked proper legal standing to appeal a decision by the states belonging to the consortium, PARCC, to award an enormously lucrative contract to Pearson.
Because the AIR lacks legal standing, the judge ruled, the other substantive complaints it made about the contract award—specifically, that it was biased in favor of Pearson—were effectively thrown out, too.
In a statement to Education Week, the AIR said it would not continue its legal fight.
“We disagree with the decision but thank Judge Singleton for hearing our concerns,” Larry McQuillan, an AIR spokesman said. “We do not plan to appeal the ruling.”
The AIR’s challenge of the contract had potentially enormous implications for the testing industry, and for states that have attempted to band together to craft tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, many assessment insiders have said.
States belonging to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, last year awarded a multi-year contract—which AIR claimed at the time was potentially worth $1 billion—to Pearson, the global education corporation. The contract called for Pearson to perform a broad range of duties under the contract, including development of test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of results, analysis of scores, and working with states to develop “cut scores,” or performance standards for the exams.
But the AIR, based in Washington, argued that request for proposals put forward for common-core testing work by the state of New Mexico on behalf of the PARCC states skewed in favor of Pearson.
A central allegation was that the contract improperly bundled testing work that Pearson had already won through a separate award with PARCC with new testing work—which unfairly gave the company the upper hand.
Backers of PARCC, and the overall common-core standards and testing movement, had feared that a ruling against New Mexico and Pearson would create significant disruption for states attempting to create and administer the new exams.
The AIR’s initial protest was rejected by the state’s purchasing agent, who said it had not been filed in time. In an earlier decision, issued last year, Judge Singleton disagreed, ordering that the AIR’s protest be heard on its merits. The state purchasing agent, Lawrence Maxwell, later officially denied the AIR’s argument, saying the vendor had not made a convincing case that that RFP process was flawed.
Last year, the AIR appealed in court, asking that the contract with Pearson be reduced to one year, and that the rest of it be canceled.
But in her ruling, Singleton agreed with an argument made by New Mexico state officials that because the AIR had never submitted a proposal to conduct the work, it did not qualify as a “bidder” or “offerer” under state law, and, therefore, lacked standing to pursue the complaint.
(Officials from the AIR, in previous interviews, have said they did not submit a bid to New Mexico because the RFP put forward by the state was biased in favor of Pearson in a way that would have made securing the work virtually impossible. Pearson was the only company that bid on the contract.)
PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin, in an e-mail, said the consortium was grateful for the decision.
“We have been confident from the start that New Mexico conducted a fair and open RFP process,” said Connerty-Marin said. “This has now been confirmed three times.”
“Thousands of educators from the PARCC states have built this test on the belief that high-quality assessments go hand in hand with high-quality standards,” he added. “Our job is to make that a reality, and we have done that.”
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