Schools
 

School Board signs no-bid contract for monitoring state tests at some campuses

The Orleans Parish School Board is the latest organization to bolster state exam security by hiring an outside company to monitor a handful of the district’s schools during testing next week.

They’re also the latest to do so by hiring test-security giant Caveon Test Security without going through a competitive bidding process, or seeking price quotes.*

“No formal quotes were requested given the nature of the work and the short timeframe,” a district spokeswoman said Wednesday evening.

Testing starts Monday.

The district follows the move of the Recovery School District, and its charter schools. Leaders of the charters pledged in February to hire third-party monitors for all state exams in the wake of two highly publicized cheating incidents.

And like those organizations, the School Board is paying for monitors to visit schools on just one of several days of state testing, with two people visiting each school.  But unlike them, the board is only hiring monitors for about a third of schools it oversees or chartered.

The School Board says Caveon was recommended by the Louisiana Department of Education. The department, which runs the RSD, also identified Caveon as an option to its charter schools.

But the department didn’t shop around before signing a no-bid contract itself for $49,500, just under the threshold that would require a formal process seeing proposals.

Caveon is a nationally recognized company in this field, but its reputation took a hit when Georgia investigators said it vastly underrepresented the extent of the Atlanta Public Schools problems. Thirty-five educators were eventually indicted in what became the nation’s largest cheating scandal.

The Caveon test monitoring is in addition to both the RSD and School Board’s existing test security plans.

The district wasn’t quick to tell The Lens about Caveon when we asked.

District spokeswoman Emily Good of the Ehrhardt Group said on March 30, the district had not issued a request for proposals or signed a contract related to test monitoring. Her statement that day also said that OPSB administration was still “finalizing plans for 2016 spring testing security.”

This week, we asked whether the district had hired Caveon. Good did not answer directly, and instead referred The Lens to the two-week old statement on the district’s testing plan. She said we could seek a contract through public records should one exist. So we did.

The terms of the $32,000 no-bid contract were negotiated two weeks ago, and the contract was signed last week.

The contract shows the district will monitor two of its direct-run schools and five charter schools, which are listed in the contract. The district operates six schools directly and oversees 18 charter schools.

“Schools were prioritized based on charter school renewal status, availability of monitors and administrative determinations,” Good said late Wednesday.

The RSD identified two options for its charters: Caveon and EMH Strategy, which promised Caveon-trained staff. Most RSD charter schools went with EMH, at about $2,300 per school, though the district and ReNEW Schools hired Caveon directly with prices ranging from $3,500 to $4,000 per school.

The RSD is paying for Caveon to monitor schools whose charter contract is up for extension or renewal next year.

The RSD, OPSB and one of the larger charter networks, ReNEW Schools, are spending a combined $109,500. In Louisiana, professional service contracts over $50,000 trigger a competitive bidding process, but no entity on its own surpassed that amount.

Caveon monitors and EMH monitors trained by Caveon will monitor schools during state standardized testing next week in addition to reviewing existing test security plans.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story said it appeared that the board violated its own policy in not seeking price quotes. However, the board policy only requires a single quote from the professional-services provider that administrators choose.

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