The truth behind Arizona’s sudden withdrawal from PARCC

By Brad McQueen

Governor Jan Brewer and Superintendent of Instruction John Huppenthal pulled Arizona out of the Common Core/PARCC testing group this past Friday to supposedly erase any hint of conflict of interest when considering bids for our next state test contract.  If your gut is telling you that something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut.

This requires some background information, but stick with me and it will hopefully make sense in the end.

As part of getting federal Stimulus money back in 2009, states had to agree to adopt the Common Core learning standards, put in place NSA-like data suctioning systems (SLDS) in their schools, and become part of a testing group with other states to create a test to assess the not-yet-written Common Core learning standards.

The federal government financed the creation of two privately run testing groups, the PARCC testing group and the Smarter Balanced testing group, and gave them each over $175 million to create two different Common Core- aligned tests back in 2010.  The two testing groups would create quite similar computerized tests, except the Smarter Balanced test group’s test would have “adaptive” technology to adjust to the test taker.  Having two Common Core testing groups gave the appearance that there was not just one monolithic Common Core entity, or so they thought.

Arizona chose to join the PARCC  test creating group and our own John Huppenthal would become a Governing Board member of that group.

The PARCC testing group was a group of states and other Common Core groups that had no idea how to create a Common Core test, so they hired on the international testing giant, Pearson Testing, to run the test creation show from start to finish.

Over the span of about four years the PARCC group would develop strong ties with each of its member states ordaining “state leads” and others that would still be on their state Department of Education’s payroll but would also be working on behalf of the PARCC group’s goal of creating a Common Core test.  The public and private lines get very blurry here.

Let’s stick with just Arizona for now as it is representative of all the other PARCC group states. The “state leads” and others at our Department of Education, paid for by AZ taxpayer dollars, would coordinate with and send all manner of educator types to work with PARCC on their new assessment.

I know this because I was asked by our state leads and went twice to Chicago to “work” on the PARCC assessment. They would also be deeply involved in the PARCC field test that was conducted in our state this past Spring.

In the Winter of 2014 Pearson Testing (yep, they were still guiding this process) and the states were close to completing the PARCC test, with the final phase of field testing/ piloting their test items on a sample of Arizona’s kids still remaining to be done.

A testing company needs to field test its test items on a sampling of the target population of kids who will be taking the test in order for the test to be a more valid measurement tool.  The “state leads” and others at the AZ Dept of Education were heavily involved in this field test process having daily exchanges of emergency emails and sharing of information with the PARCC testing group and Pearson.

Here’s an example of one such email obtained by request from the AZ Dept of Education by the Arizona Daily Independent. Included in this email was Arizona’s Director of PARCC Assessments and the Associate Superintendent of Assessments:

______________________________________________________________________________

From:Danielle Griswold  (title added)Program Associate, PARCC Policy, Research, and Design
Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 6:33 AM
To: (Names omitted for privacy)

PARCC State Leads,

We look forward to speaking with you today, Wednesday, March 12, for the weekly PARCC State Lead Call.  Today’s call will run from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm EDT.  However, we may need a little more time, so please save some room after 4:00 pm. As a reminder, the call is open to all state leads to participate and share key information/decisions across working groups.

PARCC Rangefinding Committee Nominations

a.  PARCC still needs nominees to serve on the Rangefinding Committees in May in Mesa, AZ.  The ELA/Literacy Rangefinding meeting will take place May 5-9, 2014, while the Mathematics Rangefinding meeting will be held May 12-16, 2014. We will need over 100 participants per subject area for these meetings.

b.  The PARCC Handscoring OWG met with Pearson this week to discuss the upcoming Rangefinding meetings.

_____________________________________________________________________________________  

Even though the PARCC test has not been officially adopted by our state, Gov Brewer and John Huppenthal permitted this private company, along with Pearson to use our kids for field tests to make their test better so they could then sell that test back to us at great profit.  What did our kids and our schools get in return? Absolutely nothing, the schools were not even given access to the field test’s results.

In addition, all that data that PARCC and Pearson gathered from our kids was done without parent permission or notice.  This is Common Core in action.  The schools acted like these field tests were just a routine part of state testing, which they were not.

Would it be okay if an energy drink field tested its products on our kids, without parent permission, in order to make their products better so they could go on to make millions? Why is our children’s data no less sacred?

Stick with me on this because things get a bit more hazy as the public/private lines are blurred even more.

Also during the Winter of 2014, the PARCC group was looking for a company to create and implement its future tests.  Magically, Pearson was the only bidder on the project and John Huppenthal and the rest of the PARCC’s Governing Board members awarded them the contract to develop and implement all future PARCC tests.

The PARCC state leads and others in AZ’s Dept of Education were involved it seems in providing information to help PARCC negotiate its contract with Pearson to become its new administrator as well as an attempt to line that contract up with Pearson/PARCC’s bid for each state’s testing contract according to the email below.  Arizona’s Director of PARCC Assessment and its Associate Superintendent of Assessments were on the email’s recipients list.

________________________________________________________________________

From: James Mason (added:MS Dept of Education State PARCC lead)
Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 4:26 AM
To: (Removed for privacy)
Subject: Operational Assessment RFP Contract Question–Fast Response Needed
Importance: High

Greetings State Leads,

In preparation for a negotiating team call with Pearson this afternoon, we need some fast state feedback.

As you look towards executing your state contract for the Operational RFP with Pearson, a question has arisen around the contract time period and initial payments.

The operational contract envisions some work beginning this spring 2014, however, we anticipate most states will execute contracts that begin with the next fiscal year, i.e., 7/1/14 to 6/30/15.  Payments to Pearson will be based upon “deliverables” and not time and materials.  So, we can write the contract with the first deliverable due in the summer.  I need to know if it will be a problem for your state to execute a contract in which work around one or more deliverables may begin this spring (March-June), but the actual deliverable and the payment for this final deliverable would come later …(omitted)

The contract need not name when the work on the deliverable begins, just when it will be due to PARCC and, through our individual state contracts, to each state.  If this is a problem, then starting work this spring will also be a problem creating challenges for our first major deliverables in the fall.

I need a simple “yes, this approach will be a problem” or “no, this approach will not be a problem” and i need your response today.  Obviously, a more detailed explanation will need to come later, but I don’t want to slow down receiving a general sense of where we are as a consortia. Thanks for your consideration!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

There was never a requirement that the PARCC member states had to use the PARCC test as their states’ Common Core test, unless your state chose to be a Governing Board member of PARCC, which Arizona chose to do.  All Governing Board member states agreed  to field test and eventually use PARCC’s final test in the Spring of 2015 in their states.

The only fly in Arizona’s soup was that, in order to prevent cronyism, we have laws that mandate that all government contracts go through an “open bidding “process.  The state must collect multiple bids from testing companies in this case, and then they must objectively choose the best company to create Arizona’s Common Core assessment.

In this case the AZ State Board of Education, a Brewer appointed group on which Superintendent of Instruction John Huppenthal also sits, will be reviewing all bids for the contract to provide Arizona’s Common Core-aligned state test and would award the bid to one company.  The members should reveal any conflict of interest they may have in choosing amongst the bidding companies.

The request for possible bids went out a couple months back. Six companies submitted potential bids.  Among these were bids from the PARCC test and a separate bid from Pearson Testing.  So Pearson really has two bids, its own and the bid from PARCC, since Pearson is now running the show at PARCC.  Pretty shady and convoluted to say the least, eh?

I wrote an article that exposed these conflicts with the PARCC group and Pearson.  I also revealed that Pearson paid for our Superintendent of Instruction John Huppenthal to take a world-wide tour of China and Brazil in 2011.

Subsequently, this past Friday Gov Brewer and John Huppenthal  simultaneously suddenly “realized” that there were indeed conflicts of interest with remaining in the  PARCC testing group while the PARCC group was submitting a bid to become our state’s Common Core test provider, aided by information from its state leads no less.  In a public show of transparency, to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, and in a major CYA move, they decided to withdraw  Arizona from the PARCC group in the meantime.

Pearson Testing is also submitting a separate bid, but no conflict of interest was expressed by our Governor or Superintendent of Instruction.

This whole thing stinks to high heaven and is a stain on our state’s reputation.  The other four bidding companies have not benefitted from close ties with state leads in our Dept of Education and neither did they get access to our kids to do a field test of their assessment. None of the other bidding companies sent Huppenthal on all expense paid trips around the world either.

Arizonans aren’t stupid.  They know cronyism when they see it or at least the appearance of it. Governor Brewer and Superintendent Huppenthal need to come clean.  What’s in it for them should PARCC/Pearson get our state’s Common Core Assessment contract?

Until they come clean or an investigation sheds the light of truth on this shady process, PARCC and Pearson Testing should be forbidden from bidding on our state Common Core-aligned test. Also, Huppenthal and all the state leads and others at the AZ Dept of Education should not be part of the test selection process. This would include some key members in the Assessment division.  The Arizona Department of Education should request that the PARCC Governing Board release all the minutes of meetings in which our Superintendent of Instruction participated to see if any other conflicts may exist.

This whole sordid affair just shows what happens when the public/private lines are blurred, which is emblematic of the entire Common Core beast, and how the interests of our kids in Arizona are an afterthought as private companies via their government pals potentially swell their bank accounts.

Arizonans deserve an explanation.

Brad McQueen is a former Common Core insider and current public school teacher in Tucson, Arizona and is the author of the anti-Common Core book “The Cult of Common Core”. Connect with Brad at cultofcommoncore@gmail.com

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About Opinion 346 Articles
Under the leadership of Editor in Chief Huey Freeman, the Editorial Board of the Arizona Daily Independent offers readers an opportunity to comments on current events and the pressing issues of the day. Occasionally, the Board weighs-in on issues of concern for the residents of Arizona and the US.