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.

bradBrad 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

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  1. Ahhh, Rich, it wouldn’t have anything to do with the money would it? I would expect noting else from our government and its supporters. Great post.

  2. I had to laugh when I read some of these comments. Unless you think the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable are Communist fronts then you are completely missing the point about the problematic nature of Common Core. The impetus behind the Common Core is to refocus K-12 education away from teaching students how to think for themselves. That is why so much great literature was removed from the course of study where the Common Core has been implemented. The proponents of the Common Core say they are all about updating the curriculum, but the reality is they are all about replacing great literature with technical manuals to save companies the money they spend in training new employees and turning employees into human drones who will do what their bosses want without complaint.

    The biggest supporter of the Common Core is Bill Gates. He has sunk tens of millions of dollars from his foundation into “encouraging” districts and states into buying into the Common Core. Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that students must take many of the new assessments that are part of the Common Core on computers… maybe even some of them built by Microsoft. That is not communism. It is good old fashioned bribery.

    • That’s funny, Rich K, I laughed too – when I read your comment. The test of socialism is not who supports it or who implemented it. The test is Common Core itself. Plenty of capitalist billionaires support socialist or communist ideals so it’s not surprising even if they haven’t done it before.

  3. I wish people would stop blaming the liberals for the Common Core disaster. I am very liberal in the sense that I believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, diversity, equal rights under the law, freedom of speech, and the democratic process. The Common Core violates all of these principles, and it doesn’t surprise me that autocrats like Jeb Bush and Christie are fierce supporters of the “one way” principle of education. Bush’s educational policies in Florida have led to an entire underclass of students who will never graduate from high school because they can’t pass the final state-mandated test, are unemployable, and live off the government disability program and food stamps. It’s funny how on this issue the extreme liberals and the extreme conservatives are in agreement—how can we create free-thinking, responsible, creative citizens with a cooke-cutter educational system? And by the way, I’m voting for Tea Party candidates from now on.

  4. To begin with, our Governor is not too bright. She can’t think on her own. Her adviser, Concklin, pushed her to Medicaid (personal money from the hospitals?). Huppenthal is on an ego trip and since he was for Common Core, is not able to say anything against it. Now they are worried that he will be voted out, which is a great possibility What monies did they receive personally? Apparently the Governor has sold her soul.

  5. As long as the public school system is more concerned with “weighing” instead of “feeding” we have this issue.

  6. Demand that the AZ legislature disband ADE NOW! Give the power back to the taxpayers of the local school districts who, once educated on the power which they can exercise, can demand good quality education from the school boards which they have elected. We’ve poured billions of dollars into education and left the task of setting educational standards up to supposed “experts,” who charge us even more money for their expertise. They’ve used our children as guinea pigs to test their standardized tests. Yes, I remember when the makers of the AIMS tests tried it out on students to check the veracity of it and then sold it to ADE. What happened then is exactly what is happening now with PARCC.

    The promise with AIMS was that there would not be anymore social promotion of students who didn’t learn the state standards. What a crock! Social promotion is the standard with breath-taking impertinence because it is connected to teacher evaluations and their job security. Students come into high school not knowing basic math or how to write a coherent paragraph. Nearly all of them HATE to read because they can’t read the texts or any original source materials and comprehend or evaluate them.

    AIMS was not the answer because social promotion has continued; PARCC wouldn’t work except to collect data on all students. If that’s what ADE wants, hire the NSA to create and conduct state tests. Their great at collecting data! And they could do it without inventing a standardized test!

  7. Communism is no more dead than Al Quaeda! They’ve achieved far too many of their goals in the US, including:
    The Communist Takeover Of America – 45 Declared Goals

    17. Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers’ associations. Put the party line in textbooks.

    The list of alleged communist goals contained in the book (The Naked Communist) was read into the Congressional Record by U.S. Congressman Albert S. Herlong, Jr. of Florida, on January 10, 1963.[2]

  8. Actually, those who took the practice PARCC DID get something out of it, another completely wasted school day which took the students away from a perfectly good day for instruction which they sorely needed. Our students have been over-tested, especially during the Spring semester. They take a district test on writing and reading, the AIMS reading and writing test in February or March, the AIMS Math test in April, the practice PARCC test shortly after that. If the student is college-bound, they take PSATs and SATs. By May, they are completely burned out on testing.

    I am all for disbanding ADE altogether. They only “suggest,” not require workable class sizes, they’re completely useless for regulating fair and legal practices in AZ school districts. Don’t ever expect them to investigate and sanction districts for illegal practices. Get rid of ADE, get back to local district control which answers to the taxpayers who finance them and wake up the taxpaying public that has the power to demand good quality education for our children!

  9. And we were expecting what from a government run education program? More of the same, like the VA mess, the IRS mess and the ACA mess? Now we have the education mess where no matter how good the intentions were, in this free enterprise society people are in the business to make money. They will attempt to do it by any means necessary. You all have heard of K Street, well its no different at the state and local levels. That old saying of “follow the money” is as important now as it was in the Nixon era. As long as the voter in uninformed and as apathetic as a majority of the voters are now in this country you see what has happened. No control and this country is on the verge of insolvency. What is it now 17+ trillion in debt and with more money in the federal trough you have more perps feeding there and doing what they can to enrich themselves and their crony’s at our expense. Aint it grand???

  10. Thanks for the information Brad.

    It is unfortunate that so many Americans aren’t cognizant of how the Government has used the taxpayer’s
    hard earned tax money to bribe the states (“Stimulus”) in order to further its one world government objective.

    These goals are so contrary to the founding father’s vision (paradoxically which are being wholeheartedly denigrated by these same “progressives.” (Socialists/Communists), that most Americans have been unable to fully comprehend the nature of the agenda.

    It is exactly the Communist goal of eliminating excellence and producing a homogenous worker pool in its education (indoctrination) system that ensures economic failure. The Chinese have recognized this and are trying a system of limited capitalism overseen by the all powerful Communist Central Committee. At this juncture a significant driver in this economic strategy appears to be state sponsored industrial espionage.

    The problem is always going to be that in limiting diversity of thought, you also mute the creative process that is the engine of a productive capitalist system.

    ADI readers likely have varying awareness of the connection between the current administration and Communist education philosophy. (see link below- one of many stories/ episodes)

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