(There is an update to this post here, reporting that a judge in New Mexico put this Pearson contract on hold when another organization challenged it.)
I noted recently that two years ago the nonprofit group FairTest predicted that despite promises by policymakers that competition and innovation would result from school reform, it would be the same old education firms that would wind up with the big Common Core-related contracts. FairTest got that right.
Pearson, the largest education company in the world, which already has numerous contracts with states for testing and materials, just won a whopper: a contract with one of the two multi-state consortia that are designing new Core-aligned tests with federal funds. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, is hiring Pearson, according to a news release, to develop test items and forms, deliver paper and online versions of tests, consult with states to come up with cut scores that determine what is a good score and what isn’t, report results to various constituencies, and analyze the scores.
How much is it worth to Pearson? Well, James Mason, a PARCC state leader who helped negotiate the contract, told Education Week that it all depends on a number of factors, including how many states and students end up participating in PARCC, but he said it was one of “unprecedented scale, in terms of states coming together.”
When making its prediction in 2012, FairTest, or the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which is dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests, noted that some of the “same old firms” that would win contracts have troubled track records in terms of designing, administering and scoring exams. There’s quite a list of problems Pearson has encountered in various states with testing contracts, which you can see here. Pearson had to pay nearly $15 million in fines to Florida in 2010. This spring, Pearson-designed tests aligned to the Core are being given in New York State, with a number of problems being reported, including badly worded questions and test booklets with empty pages.
Pearson, it turns out, was the only bidder for the PARCC job.
PARCC just released this press release :
WASHINGTON—The group of states developing the PARCC tests in English language arts/literacy and mathematics announced Friday it has selected a contractor to continue to develop and implement the summative assessment portion of the tests. The estimated cost of the development and implementation of the tests will be under $24 per student for computer-based versions of the test. That’s lower than the previously estimated cost of $29.50 and lower than the median cost of the PARCC states’ current tests.
“The PARCC team has been working together to develop high-quality assessments that will provide educators, students, and their families with important information about how our students are doing in school,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career governing board. “With this major contract in place, and with the favorable pricing, we will be ready next year to implement PARCC assessments, which will help teachers guide instruction and will advance student achievement.”
Through a competitive bid process, the PARCC states awarded the contract to Pearson and a group of subcontractors, including ETS, WestEd, Measured Progress and Caveon, leaders in their areas of expertise and experience.
“This group of contractors represents a best-in-class collaboration that will help us bring testing to a whole new level,” said James Mason, director of assessment at the Mississippi Department of Education and a member of the negotiating team. “The days of multiple-choice-only tests are over. These are sophisticated assessments that focus on the path to success beyond high school. They include comprehension, concepts, application, writing, problem solving, critical thinking and reasoning. We have a strong team supporting us and we will continue to challenge our contractors to push the envelope on rigor and innovation.”
Representatives from the PARCC states negotiated the contract.
“PARCC states wanted to ensure we got the best assessment at the best price possible,” said Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “By working together, we were able to get an innovative and high-quality assessment development process and drive down costs for all states.”
The contract includes: development of test items and forms; delivery of the tests in paper-based and computer-based formats; reporting of results to states, districts, schools, educators, parents and students; analysis of scores to ensure they reflect college- and career-readiness; and coordination with the states in the development of cut scores (performance standards) to establish performance levels.
States in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will begin to administer the tests next school year. States currently are administering practice or “field” tests, giving students and teachers the chance to get a feel for the new computer-based assessments aligned to new career-and-college-ready standards and to test the test questions for validity, bias and other factors.
Final costs will be determined by the number of students who take the tests, which will not be known until states order the tests in advance of the spring 2015 testing.