Competition among assessment companies tests education industry

Common Core exams spur new expectations from state and district education leaders
By: | Issue: October, 2015
September 10, 2015

Testing companies find themselves competing on a tougher playing field for state assessment contracts after a rocky first round of Common Core exams spurred new expectations from state and district education leaders.

In the past year, Pearson has lost testing contracts in Florida (to American Institutes for Research, or AIR), Texas (to Educational Testing Service, or ETS), Ohio (to AIR), and, most recently, New York (to Questar Assessment Inc.), according to each state’s department of education.

McGraw-Hill Education/CTB announced in June that it is ending its high-stakes standardized testing business and selling its testing assets to Data Recognition Corporation.

Nevada signed with Data Recognition in August, after parting ways with testing company Measured Progress, which paid the state a $1.3 million settlement after technical issues prevented two-thirds of students from successfully completing annual state English and math exams.

“Every testing company with a major contract has had problems, in part because politicians have demanded that they design and implement broad-scale, computerized testing systems far more quickly than technology professionals believe is possible,” says Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Now politicians believe if they just replace the current contractor, they will find somebody who will do the job right.”

Questions about test quality and long waits for results have led some states to make a change, Schaeffer says.

New York dropped its Pearson contract in August after complaints from teachers and students about the validity of some questions. The state’s new $44 million, five-year contract with Questar Assessment requires that New York teachers help develop the tests.

“Our students deserve the best, most accurate assessments we can give them,” says New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “This new contract recognizes how vitally important it is to have New York state teachers involved in the test development process.”

Pearson could not be reached for comment for this story.

In 2012, nearly every state was part of either PARCC or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. As of this August, just 18 states remained in Smarter Balanced, and 10 (plus Washington, D.C.) had stayed with PARCC. Of those, only seven states and D.C. plan to give the PARCC exam in 2015-16.

Schaffer expects the opt-out movement to expand this year after its success in New York and New Jersey. ESEA revisions proposed in Congress also could alter testing policies in the coming years.

“There is rapid change and lots of pressures, and teachers, principals and superintendents are caught in the middle,” Schaeffer says. “Outspoken leadership by school administrators can play a key role in shaping assessment policy for the betterÑthey are credible voices and a potential powerful constituency.”