One challenge to the state’s switch from the ACT to the SAT for 11th grade testing fizzled Thursday while another — launched by roughly 120 district superintendents — took a new tack by arguing state officials may not have followed the rules.
The Colorado Association of School Executives filed a protest Wednesday with the state education department challenging the decision to swap tests, arguing the decision was made without regard to the financial impact on Colorado schools and districts.
But in a statement Thursday to Chalkbeat, senior assistant attorney general Tony Dyl said CASE has no legal standing to protest the contract award to The College Board, the makers of the SAT. CDE officials confirmed hearing the same.
As that effort was seemingly dashed, another surfaced. In a letter Thursday to the State Board of Education, the group of district superintendents raised a litany of concerns about changing tests. Most significantly, the superintendents contend the state did not meet a state procurement process requirement that purchasing offices “meet with interested parties, including affected political subdivisions” before developing a request for a proposal such as the testing contract.
The letter says: “Since it appears school districts were not consulted in this process, this state procurement process was not met.”
An education department spokeswoman said the department is preparing a full response to the letter, and did not have an immediate comment.
District representatives did take part in the process of comparing the two bids from the testing giants. State officials say the selection committee that ultimately recommended The College Board included educators and administrators from urban, rural and suburban districts. The process also included content matter experts, assessment experts, special population professionals, guidance counselors and higher education professionals.
Among the other concerns raised by the district superintendents:
- Communication about the process and the chance to provide input were “significantly lacking,” and the announcement made when many schools were closed for winter break lacked information about how it all came together.
- As the state adopts other standardized tests, ditching the ACT means a loss of what has become a rarity: longitudinal data. The ACT has been given in Colorado since 2001.
- Students who live in poverty are sometimes motivated to attend college by taking the ACT, and this is the test they’ve been preparing for this spring.
- The timing of the change is complicated because school districts are preparing for adopting and putting in place new graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2021.
Echoing another of the superintendents’ concerns, the CASE protest argued Colorado schools have aligned their efforts for students to perform well on the ACT, and many districts have purchased tests, materials, and data reporting tools to support students in earlier grades.
In his email to Chalkbeat explaining why the protest lacked legal standing, Dyl said the statute at issue says that “any actual or prospective bidder, offeror, or contractor who is aggrieved in connection with a solicitation or award of a contract may protest…” The ACT is the only entity that would fit that definition and it filed no protest, he said.
The superintendents and CASE joined a growing chorus of criticism of the process and reasoning behind abandoning a long-established and well-respected college entrance exam favored by colleges and universities in the region.
Already, state education officials are working on a compromise that would delay the move to the SAT until spring 2017.
The state education department has disclosed little about the process that led to the choice of the bid from The College Board, saying rules prevent disclosure of information about the bids or the identities of the committee members until the process wraps up. Though that process concluded Wednesday, the CASE protest brought more uncertainty.
Dana Smith, a department of education spokeswoman, said the department is aware of the AG office’s conclusion about the CASE protest but wants to wait for confirmation from the state’s director of procurement before releasing more details about the bids and selection committee.
The two testing giants have been locked in a high-stakes battle to win contracts from states that mandate a college-entrance exams for high school students. Two longtime ACT states — Illinois and Michigan — recently defected to the SAT.
This spring’s SAT is an entirely new test, refashioned to better align with the Common Core State Standards in English and math. State officials cited the tests’ harmony with the Common Core in announcing why the College Board prevailed.
Testing reform legislation approved last spring required 10th and 11th grade tests to be put out to competitive bid and that they be aligned with state academic standards.
Critics of the move say this yet again makes Colorado students guinea pigs, coming off the introduction of PARCC tests last spring.
Along with pressing for a delay in the switch to the SAT, CASE asked the state to revisit the decision entirely, “with a greater level of input and participation from educators in order to fully understand the potential positive and negative impacts and financial burden to school districts of this testing contract.” Educators did take part in the procurement process, including meeting to compare the the two tests to the state’s academic standards.
Bruce Caughey, CASE’s executive director, said in an interview conducted before the AG’s comments that the organization wanted to seize the opportunity to take part in the process when it could. But he thinks the decision ultimately will be political, with involvement from legislators and members of the State Board of Education.
“I don’t think our protest was weighing in about the quality of either test,” Caughey said. “It was more about the process school districts will have to go through to make sure this test provides value to students and families.”
Here is the full text of the CASE protest: