Texas set to switch testing vendor, reducing role of British education giant

May 21, 2015 by

texas-education-hat

Pearson had held contract for 15 years

By Lauren McGaughy –

AUSTIN – Pearson, the British education giant, has lost its 15-year lock on Texas’ lucrative standardized testing contract to another company that will get the bulk of the business, state officials said Monday.

Dangers of Switching to New Testing Company

The decision comes as some parents and educators increase pressure on state officials to revise or diminish the influence of high-stakes tests in the state’s public schools. It is unclear, however, what effect a new vendor will have on the process.

The Texas Education Agency announced it had given preliminary approval to a four-year, $280 million “student assessment” contract with New Jersey-based Education Testing Services, or ETS.

Pearson has held the contract since Texas administered its first statewide test in 2000-2001. In 2010, Pearson received nearly $469 million over five years to develop, administer and score the K-12-required tests known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR.

Over the last 15 years, Pearson has received $1.18 billion to administer the tests, according to the TEA. It is the agency’s largest contract.

After negotiations finish, Pearson likely will continue to receive a small part of the testing contract, getting around $60 million over the next four years to develop, administer and score the state test for some groups such as English-language learners.

New agency ‘honored’

“We are privileged and honored that the Texas Education Agency has chosen to broaden the role that ETS has provided in the state to encompass test development, administration, scoring, and reporting for the STAAR Assessments,” said John Oswald, vice president and chief operating officer of K-12 assessment at ETS. “Texas is home to ETS’s K–12 Student Assessment Programs and we have worked with educators here since 2005 and look forward to bringing our expertise to these additional responsibilities.”

Laura Howe, a Pearson spokeswoman, said, “While we are disappointed that we were not awarded all of the components of assessment services in the state, our commitment to Texas is unwavering. The fact remains that we have much work to do in support of education across the state. We are focused on the delivery of our current assessment and we look forward to driving innovation and opportunities for students of all ages.”

Pearson has come under fire in recent years by educators and conservative lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere. Critics say the company maintained an unhealthy monopoly on testing and other educational contracts, and a 2013 audit unveiled shortcomings such as the company’s failure to disclose former education agency officials who went to work for the company.

Change welcomed

Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state’s largest educator group, welcomed the change.

“We’re generally supportive of a new vendor shaking things up,” said Exter, who blamed Pearson for “poor quality and poorer process.”

Exter said educators believe Pearson has been too involved in Texas’ practice of drafting educational standards. He said the standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, were narrowly drafted primarily so they could be easily tested.

Thomas Ratliff, a lobbyist and Republican member of the Texas State Board of Education, said Pearson’s “baggage” can be blamed on local architects behind the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 who later went to work for the company. But the main issue is with the terms of the TEA’s contract, he said.

TEA system blamed

“Unless TEA changes when the tests are administered or what the tests covered, or how the accountability system looks at those results, there’s just going to be a different flavor of frustration,” said Ratliff, who was not a party to the contract negotiations. “I’d never had any issues with Pearson.”

Neither Exter nor Ratliff could predict whether the STAAR exams would improve under ETS.

“That’s too hard to say,” said Exter. “Hopefully a new vendor will have a better quality control process.”

Source: Texas set to switch testing vendor, reducing role of British education giant – Houston Chronicle

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