The Mississippi Department of Education is not happy with the decision of another state agency not to approve its contract for tests that will measure how well students are mastering the new Common Core Standards.
Last week, the State Board of Education approved a one-year emergency contract with NCS Pearson, Inc., to provide those tests.
That one-year emergency contract was necessary after the state agency that approves contracts did not approve a four-year contract with Pearson, which was chosen by a multi-state consortium, to which Mississippi belongs, to give the tests.
Here is our story from last week, explaining the emergency contract. It includes comments from Deanne Mosley, executive director of the state Personnel Board and chair of the contract review board, stating that the contract wasn’t approved because it did not follow state laws for single-source purchases.
On Monday, the Mississippi Department of Education responded with a lengthy press release explaining its process in trying to obtain the contract. It states that they were advised to follow that procedure for a single-source purchase.
Below is the text of that press release, including an extensive timeline of the process. See Tuesday’s Daily Journal for more information.
For Immediate Release: September 22, 2014
MDE Outlines PSCRB Process to Secure New State Assessments
JACKSON, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Education released details on Monday of its work over the past four months with the Personal Service Contract Review Board (PSCRB) to secure a contract for state tests for the 2014 through 2018 school years.
Since April 8, 2014, MDE staff followed PSCRB directives to prepare the contract for approval, including submission as a sole-source procurement. After being assured by PSCRB staff that the MDE’s contract with NCS Pearson Inc. was proceeding appropriately and that MDE was acting upon the advice of PSCRB, PSCRB staff informed the MDE on September 12, 2014, that MDE’s contract would not be placed on the PSCRB’s September Board meeting agenda for approval. This left the MDE with one of three choices: competitive sealed bidding, competitive sealed proposals, or emergency procurement.
As a result, on September 18, 2014, the Mississippi Board of Education voted to approve a contract with NCS Pearson Inc. to administer the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests as an emergency procurement. As prescribed by state procurement regulations, emergency contracts may be for one year only. The move was necessary to ensure that Mississippi public schools would have an appropriate state assessment to measure student learning for the 2014-15 school year. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, as well as state law, requires states to test students annually on what has been taught.
“The actions of the PSCRB staff have created a tremendous amount of anxiety for teachers, students, and school leaders,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “Because the emergency contract is for one year only, some 300,000 students and more than 30,000 teachers will be subjected to a year of uncertainty about how students will be assessed in future years.”
“The PARCC-developed tests are the only assessments in the marketplace that have Mississippi’s voice or input,” Wright said. “In spring 2014, over 88,000 Mississippi students in 513 schools and 140 districts across the state field tested the new PARCC-developed assessments. Since 2010, Mississippi educators and school leaders have invested a tremendous amount of time, work, training, and resources to implement high-quality standards to move the state’s education system from the bottom nationally. Additionally, Mississippi educators have been involved in the development of the PARCC assessments in both English Language Arts and Math. Using a different test that does not fit the current state standards being taught would be unfair to students and counterproductive for teachers.”
The PARCC-designed assessments are aligned to Mississippi’s college- and career-ready standards. The new assessments will provide valuable information to help teachers and administrators guide teaching and learning.
Mississippi is required to use student assessment results as part of its accountability model to evaluate school and school district performance. The new accountability system has been designed to meet a revised state law that requires a single “A” through “F” accountability system that meets both state and federal reporting requirements.
“We feel it’s important for our school leaders, teachers, students and parents to know the importance of these assessments and why we are executing an emergency contract,” Wright said. “We now finally have a test that will provide a meaningful measure of student progress toward meeting the higher standards we are expecting. Our students deserve to know how they are doing in school.”
The following is a timeline of events, as well as communication between MDE and PSCRB:
December 2013 – New Mexico, on behalf of PARCC, issued RFP for comprehensive suite of assessments for PARCC consortium states.
April 8, 2014 – Knowing the tentative contract award recipient was NCS Pearson Inc., MDE Director of Procurement Donna Hales emailed PSCRB Director Teselyn Funches seeking advice on the procurement method for PARCC operational assessment tests. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by then Gov. Haley Barbour (2011) and subsequently signed by Gov. Phil Bryant (2012) was attached that denoted the State of Mississippi as a Governing State in the PARCC consortium and gave the PARCC consortium authority to issue a Request for Proposal.
April 24, 2014 –Funches emailed Hales confirming sole-source procurement method should be used when submitting procurement to PSCRB for approval. Funches offered to review the letter from the agency head that is required when submitting to verify letter meets all PSCRB regulations.
April 30, 2014 – Hales emailed Funches the draft letter from State Superintendent Carey Wright seeking approval to contract with NCS Pearson Inc. as a sole-source procurement to administer the PARCC assessments.
May 1, 2014 – NCS Pearson Inc. awarded competitive bid on behalf of PARCC consortium.
May 15, 2014 – Funches emailed Hales that the draft letter from State Superintendent Carey Wright “looks good.”
May 16, 2014 – State Board of Education approved contract with NCS Pearson Inc.
May 27, 2014 – Contract submitted to PSCRB for approval at the June 2014 Board meeting.
June 3, 2014 –Hales advised Sandra Edwards, PSCRB Consultant, to hold contract item in abeyance until the protest submitted by American Institutes for Research (AIR) in New Mexico was resolved.
July 2, 2014 – AIR protest determined to have no merit. MDE staff proceeded with work to submit contract to PSCRB for approval.
July 29, 2014 – Contract resubmitted to PSCRB for approval at the August 2014 Board meeting.
August 4, 2014 – August 14, 2014 – Twelve emails and/or letters and one conference call exchanged between PSCRB and MDE staff requesting clarifications and/or revisions to contract. MDE provided requested clarifications.
August 14, 2014 – Funches emailed Hales asking what would happen if the consideration of the contract was delayed until the PSCRB Board meeting in September. Hales replied that a delay would impede the work of Mississippi educators and jeopardize the ability to test block schedule students in December.
August 15, 2014 – Funches told Hales the contract would not be on the August PSCRB Board meeting. Funches told MDE Special Assistant Attorney General Joel Jones via phone that PSCRB ran out of time to complete review of the contract before the August 2014 Board meeting.
August 20, 2014 – September 9, 2014 – Ten emails and one phone call exchanged between Hales and Funches and/or Edwards of PSCRB, requesting further clarifications and/or revisions to contract. MDE provided requested clarifications.
September 10, 2014 – Funches called Hales stating PSCRB will not move forward with submitting MDE’s item to its Board and stated MDE had the option to present to the Board for approval at the September 2014 meeting. Hales requested written clarification in order to know how to proceed with contract.
September 12, 2014 – Funches emailed Hales asking what MDE had decided about proceeding with contract item. Choices included submitting the contract with recommendation of disapproval, withdrawing the contract, or seeking some other method of procurement for consideration. Hales advised Funches via email that MDE did not wish for it to be presented with recommendation of disapproval and asked for explanation of not recommending for approval. Funches advised Hales in email response that PSCRB would not recommend approval as a sole-source contract. Hales advised it was submitted as sole-source in May 2014 based on earlier guidance from PSCRB and asked for direction on how to submit in order for approval to be obtained. Funches emailed Hales that the choices available to MDE included competitive sealed bidding, competitive sealed proposals, or emergency procurement.
September 18, 2014 – Mississippi Board of Education voted to approve a contract with NCS Pearson Inc. as an emergency procurement for one year.
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