An Indiana State Board of Education member wants legislators to revisit a plan to replace ISTEP with a national “off-the-shelf” exam as a way to solve a dispute over the selection of a British company to make ISTEP starting next year.
The House Education Committee on Tuesday decided to stick with ISTEP when it revised Senate Bill 566 to cut out portions that called for Indiana to get out of the business of creating its own state exams.
But state board member Andrea Neal said she was so troubled by complaints about how the global test-making giant Pearson won the bid to create future ISTEP tests that she thinks it would be better if lawmakers stuck with the plan to simply dump the exam.
In place of ISTEP, Senate Bill 566 originally proposed that the state could consider adapting a test used in other states, such as the Iowa Test of Basics Skills or a test created by the Oregon-based Northwest Evaluation Association, which some Indiana schools use as a practice exam to prepare for ISTEP.
Neal said she was troubled by allegations at last week’s state board meeting from attorney Thomas Wheeler on behalf of fellow bidder Data Recognition Corporation that Pearson was given an unfair advantage during bidding. By tossing out ISTEP for a new test, Neal said the legislature could solve the dispute over how the bids were handled.
“Your action essentially makes the issue moot,” Neal wrote in an email to legislators Tuesday. “Unless you act this session, the contract with Pearson will move forward and the new test will be in place for the 2015-16 school year.”
But the Indiana Department of Administration, which oversees bidding, has already investigated an appeal by Data Recognition Corporation and said the complaints didn’t require any changes.
“After review, IDOA finds no reason to uphold Data Recognition Corporation’s protest and affirms the State’s award,” Leila Sublett, of the department’s procurement division, wrote to the company.
Besides, said House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, it’s not the legislature’s role to interfere in a dispute that falls under the governor’s authority.
“The legislature didn’t get involved in the process, nor should we,” Behning said. “I’ve seen the letter, I’ve seen the complaint. But it would be difficult for me, and I assume most members of the General Assembly, to weigh in and say whether it was fair or unfair.”
Wheeler told the state board last week that Pearson broke the rules by discussing its bid with state officials after a deadline. He claimed the company misrepresented how many full-time jobs it would create in Indiana to win extra credit on its bid for having a positive economic impact on the state. Wheeler also argued the company plans to funnel most of the work to subsidiary companies based elsewhere.
But the Department of Administration said no rules were broken. Conversations between the department and Pearson occurred before the deadline, it said.
Board member Cari Whicker, who raised concerns about the bidding process at the board’s March meeting, today said she’s confident the process followed the rules.
“I feel comfortable saying that the legislature set up the requirements and that the process was done fairly and followed,” Whicker said.
But Neal argued legislators should stop Pearson from getting the contract without more investigation.
“I just feel like those are very serious allegations that need to be aired and fully understood and resolved before we move forward with this design of a brand new ISTEP test,” Neal said. “All I can do is raise the issue with others who might have more of a say or more input in the process.”
The state last month chose Pearson to be the new test writer for ISTEP, replacing California-based CTB/McGraw-Hill, but the final contract is still being negotiated.
In the meantime, Senate Bill 566 was rewritten to create a summer committee to study the future of Indiana’s state test and explore whether a cheaper test in use in another state could be used in place of ISTEP in the future.
“I believe the public and the members of the General Assembly think we need to look at assessments,” Behning said. “To take action this year I still think is premature.”
Data Recognition Corporation could still file an appeal of the department’s investigation and decision.