Mississippi Board of Ed Juggling Testing Vendors, Contracts


In Mississippi last year, the state Board of Education awarded an emergency contract to education publishing giant Pearson for $8.4 million worth of Common Core testing materials for grades 3 through 8 to be taken during this school year.  Now, the board has contracted for another emergency contract for $480,000 to provide educators the tools they will need to read the students’ scores.

Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger says the newest contract was awarded to the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers association (PARCC), one of the two consortia that were given $360 million in federal grants to create the tests that are used to evaluate students learning from the Common Core standards.

This move was not a surprise to education officials, who say they knew they would have to award two contracts for the same test during this school year. It was January of this year when the Board of Education voted to do away with PARCC in spite of disagreement from several of the state’s top political leaders. State leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have worked to repeal Common Core, along with the Common Core-related tests like PARCC.

When the Department of Education requested assistance from Pearson, it wanted the contract to be multi-year, however, the state Personnel Services Contract Review Board denied the request, pointing out that the department was required to solicit proposals for such a contract. Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the state Department of Education, explained that PARCC’s plan:

“…was always to have the states purchase the data management and reporting piece separate from the Pearson assessment contract. PARCC has stated it will create a data warehouse that has an online dashboard for states, districts, and schools to access on-demand reports.”

Guilfoyle says there would have been no way to bid this contract because the only source to provide this data management for the PARCC testing results is Pearson.

“Schools and districts need this information to make informed decisions about student instruction,” she said. “Because we left the consortium, we needed to execute this contract to secure the test questions that were developed by the states in the consortium and to have access to customized reports through the spring as test results come in.”

Starting next year, Minnesota-based Questar Assessment will provide the majority of the standardized tests for Mississippi. Last week, the board voted to award a one-year contract worth $12.3 million to Questar. The state can continue the contract for nine years longer at a 10-year cost of $111 million or more, according to Jeff Amy of The Associated Press.

The materials provided by the company include: English and math tests for grades 3-8; algebra I and English II exams; and, for an added cost, optional geometry and algebra II tests. The change in vendors means that Mississippi students in 2016 will take their third different standardized test in three years.

The Clarion-Ledger’s Emily Le Coz writes that the Questar testing program will administer one end-of-year assessment instead of the two which were required by PARCC. The new testing design will include a variety of test items like multiple choice questions and questions which have to be answered by writing. The test will align to the state’s college-and-career-ready academic standards.