South Carolina has reached its deadline to award a contract for this spring’s 11th grade standardized tests for English language arts and mathematics, and so far, no contract has been awarded for the tests, which are usually administered over the course of three school days in the spring.
Now, the General Assembly is being asked to allow the state’s procurement office to make an emergency procurement in a last-ditch effort to secure a contract with a vendor to administer this year’s test.
If that doesn’t work, 11th grade students may not have a standardized test this year, though it’s required by state law under Act 200.
It’s the latest twist in a saga that’s lasted for three years as the state has changed, and re-changed, the assessments given to students.
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Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Rita Allison, chair of the House Education and Public Works committee, asked for the House to allow the State Fiscal Accountability Authority to make an emergency procurement for a contract for this spring’s tests.
The House debated the bill briefly then adjourned debate until Thursday.
This comes nearly two months after the procurement office decided not to award a contract to any companies for the 11th grade exams, leaving educators across the state in the dark as to which exam their 11th grade students would be taking.
“It’s not the best situation by any means,” said Jason McCreary, director of accountability and quality assurance for Greenville County Schools.
Teachers have been instructed to teach the state standards, not to any one test, which should limit some impact of the uncertainty, McCreary said. But teachers and students still don’t know what type of test could be selected, if any at all, which makes it difficult to prepare students for what to expect, he said.
How we got here
The testing dilemma stems from when the state pulled out of the Common Core and its related tests in 2013. It had to select a new testing company to provide standardized assessments and eventually awarded a five-year $58 million contract to ACT Inc. to provide ELA and math tests for third through eighth graders and a college readiness exam for 11th graders.
One of the competing vendors, Data Recognition Corporation, protested the award and won, so the state canceled the contract and signed a one-year deal with ACT Inc. which provided the much-debated ACT Aspire tests to third through eighth grades and its most well-known test, the ACT College Readiness Exam, to all 11th graders last spring.
The state’s procurement office opened the five-year contract up for re-bid in September 2015 and on Nov. 20, announced it would award a five-year, $33.6 million deal for the third through eighth grade tests to the same Minnesota-based company, Data Recognition Corp., that had successfully protested the previous contract.
Those tests will be called SC READY and will be provided by DRC, which also provides the state-required SC PASS social studies and science tests to grades 4-8.
But it did not select a vendor for the 11th grade tests. Instead it extended its intent to award a contract “until further notice.”
McCreary, at Greenville County Schools, said ideally tests should already have been ordered to give the company sufficient time to prepare and distribute exams before the testing window. At a school board workshopTuesday, McCreary said the latest the tests could be ordered would be sometime next week.
McCreary said it’s possible the Legislature could freeze the 11th grade assessment for this spring because of the delay in selecting a vendor, which would mean 11th graders would go untested.
“That may be the best direction to go given the timing,” he said.
A spokesman for the state Department of Education did not wish to comment on the status of the 11th grade test given the pending legislation.
The frequent changes to the state assessments has limited the usefulness of data the tests reveal about students in Greenville County, said Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster.
The school board discussed marks received last year through the ACT Aspire and ACT college readiness exam but struggled to make any real assessment of progress or decline because there were no previous years to compare results.
In general, the school district outperformed the state and national averages on the ACT tests but the results would only serve to draw generalities about areas to improve, Royster said.
“We don’t need to spend a lot of time analyzing this because we’re never going to be tested the same way again,” he said.
That will be the case again this year as at least one new test, SC READY, is given to grades 3 through 8.
Board trustee Lynda Leventis-Wells said the tests, particularly the college readiness exams, set students up for disappointment.
“I never want to set a child up for failure. I think these tests sometimes put so much pressure on children and parents because as soon as they receive these results they’re going to think that their child is not going to be college ready.”
The frequent changes to tests and to different testing companies isn’t about outcomes for students but “it’s about money,” she said.
Teachers should be allowed to teach the class material without worry about how students will perform on standardized tests, she said.
The best measure of outcome is how students perform in the classroom, not how they perform on a high-stakes test, she said.
“Tests do not determine your future,” she said. “You determine your future.”