Pearson challenges Iowa's decision on new assessment vendor

Education company with local ties calls selection process biased

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A vendor that lost a bid to develop Iowa’s new standardized tests is challenging the Iowa Department of Education’s decision.

Pearson, an education company with offices in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, filed a petition to stay the $31 million contract recently awarded to American Institutes of Research, a D.C.-based not-for-profit.

In the petition, Pearson representatives argue it was victim to “preferential treatment and bias.” They assert the criteria used to rank the eight testing proposals was altered after bids were submitted.

Pearson asked the state to revoke the award to American Institutes of Research and rescore the bids, or to issue a new request for proposals “that would be evaluated openly, impartially and without bias.”

In a statement to The Gazette, a Pearson spokesman said the company was surprised the state intended to award the contract “to an out-of-state organization whose $31 million price was approximately $9.3 million more than our proposal price.”

“Since Pearson’s proposal was predicated upon using local employees and facilities to develop, administer and report the assessments, the Pearson bid also keeps tax dollars in Iowa,” spokesman Scott Overland continued. “Awarding to an out-of-state vendor results in the potential loss of tax revenue for Iowa.”

Iowa’s new English language arts, math and science tests will replace the Iowa Assessments, which were developed by Iowa Testing Programs.

The state intends to use the new statewide assessments beginning in the 2018-19 school year. Students in grades three through eight will take the tests, as will either high school sophomores or juniors.

In addition to American Institutes for Research and Pearson, test proposals were submitted by ACT Inc., Data Recognition Corp., Questar and the University of Kansas, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which managed assessment proposals on behalf of the state education department, did not respond immediately to requests for comment from The Gazette.

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