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Legal challenge could halt PARCC testing in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A legal challenge by a Washington-based testing company may halt a controversial assessment exam in New Mexico and could tangle up other states using the same test.

A Santa Fe judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in an appeal by the American Institutes for Research who wants to limit a potentially multi-year contract given to Pearson for Common Core testing.

Last year, the London-based Pearson was awarded a contact given out by states belonging to a consortium for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, or PARCC.

According to court documents filed in Santa Fe District Court, the New Mexico Public Education Department’s requirements “unlawfully restricted competition by including a number of specifications that heavily favored one particular vendor and effectively precluded competition by requiring the use of one vendor’s propriety system” among other limitations.

New Mexico is a member of a PARCC consortium that originally included 11 other states and the District of Columbia.

That consortium, court documents say, “had an irreparable conflict of interest” in helping shape requirements for the contract that was crafted especially for Pearson.

AIR wants to reduce Pearson’s contract to a year and is seeking another bidding process for later contact years following a ruling by the New Mexico purchasing agent that the bidding process was fair.

John F. Kennedy, an attorney representing New Mexico, did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

A court ruling in favor of AIR could force New Mexico to open up bidding again, putting the future of the exam in the state in jeopardy and spark similar legal challenges in other states.

In Mississippi, the Board of Education adopted the PARCC tests on a one-year emergency contract after a state contract review board ruled that the multistate PARCC consortium chose vendor Pearson PLC without the competitive process required under Mississippi state law. The state is trying to award a new testing contract, although Mississippi officials say Pearson could still be chosen.

Mississippi also recently withdrew from the PARCC consortium amid anti-Common Core sentiments.

The backlash came as millions of U.S. students started taking the rigorous tests aligned with Common Core standards that outline math and language skills that should be mastered in each grade.

Last week, hundreds of high school students across New Mexico walked out of schools to protest the PARCC.

The Common Core test fulfill the requirement in the federal No Child Left Behind law for annual testing in reading and math in grades three to eight and again in high school. But as Congress seeks to rewrite the education law, there’s debate over whether the tests should be required by Washington, and whether students are being tested too much.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter: http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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