RICHMOND — The General Assembly’s investigative agency yesterday released a study that found the state Education Department properly awarded a $139 million contract for standardized testing even though the losing bidder had offered a contract that was $35 million lower.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) conducted the study at the request of Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, Fairfax Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
He had expressed concerns about the contract’s cost and scoring mistakes that the winning bidder, Pearson Educational Measurement, had made in other states.
JLARC analyst Justin Brown, who presented the study, said the Department of Education correctly followed state contract procurement procedures to develop a request for proposals for administration, scoring and reporting of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.
But he added that there was a lack of documentation of the scoring process and a concern that the process doesn’t properly consider a contract’s proposed cost.
Delegate Leo C. Wardrup, a member of the JLARC subcommittee studying the SOL contract process, said that in spite of some shortcomings in the procurement process, his group “could find no reason not to award” the contract to Pearson.
Mr. Wardrup, Virginia Beach Republican, said that because the six-year contract has the option of being extended to 18 years, “this has to be monitored very, very carefully during the life of it to ensure that the selected vendor does perform according to price and expectations relative to what they proposed.”
The Department of Education awarded the SOL testing contract to Pearson over Harcourt Assessment Inc., which had held the contract since 1998.
The deal, which took effect Oct. 1, means Pearson will be in charge of developing the online and paper versions of the SOL tests and scoring and reporting the results to the department.
The review found that a panel of three department officials and three persons in charge of local school divisions testing gave proper weight to criteria such as the vendor’s overall qualifications; test development; administration, scoring and reporting; project management and price.
Pearson scored 86 points, Harcourt scored 65.
Mr. Brown said Pearson denied that costs of a $7 million legal settlement it agreed to pay for using the wrong answer key in scoring 47,000 tests in Minnesota are being folded in to the Virginia proposal, a concern that some lawmakers previously expressed.
Pearson’s testing mistakes were disclosed after the SOL contract evaluation was done. But evaluators told JLARC staff that even if they had known about the mistakes, they still would have chosen Pearson as the superior offer.