Pearson is fighting to halt a decision by the state of Iowa to award a $31 million testing contract to the American Institutes for Research, arguing that the scoring of bids was riddled with “preferential treatment and bias.”
The giant education corporation filed its appeal as a petition to stay the award with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, arguing that the state failed to follow the parameters of its request for proposals for the work.
Appeals of state testing awards by losing vendors are not uncommon. Assessment companies are known to dispute the scoring processes and rationale of state officials when competing for contracts worth many millions of dollars.
In 2015, Pearson and AIR engaged in a memorable and high-stakes battle over a potentially enormous contract issued for testing work overseen by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a common-core state testing consortium. Pearson, which had won that contract, ultimately prevailed in that fight, when a district court judge ruled against AIR’s lawsuit.
The Iowa contract was one of three state assessment contracts that the AIR, a nonprofit vendor based in Washington, D.C., had tentatively secured over the past few weeks, worth a combined $84 million. The vendor was also poised to win deals in Indiana and North Dakota. All three awards were not yet final, until other vendors were given the opportunity to challenge the awards.
The Iowa contract called for a vendor to complete work over a period of more than five years. It covered new state assessments in English/language arts, math, and science, Iowa officials have said. The five other vendors who pursued the contract were Pearson; ACT Inc.; Data Recognition Corporation; Questar; and the University of Kansas, according to the state.
Some Iowa legislators had urged the state Department of Education to use an Iowa-based exam instead of one provided by an out-of-state vendor.
In a statement to Marketplace K-12, Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said that Pearson is a “proud employer of hundreds of Iowa residents” and that its bid was “predicated upon using local employees and facilities to develop, administer, and report the assessments.” As a result, when judged by the “overall impact to Iowans,” Pearson offered a better deal, he argued.
The Iowa Department of Education referred questions on the Pearson appeal to the state’s department of administrative services. An official for the administrative services agency said no decision on Pearson’s appeal or stay has been made.
The American Institutes for Research declined to comment on Pearson’s filing, saying that doing so was not appropriate since the Iowa contract had not been finalized.
In its appeal, Pearson asks that Iowa state officials rescind the award to the AIR and re-score the proposals–or that the an entirely new RFP be put forward and bids be judged “openly, impartially, and without bias.”