If approved by the Attorney General and State Comptroller, the New York State Education Department plans to end their use of tests from Pearson PLC after its contract concludes in December.
The state plans to award an approximately $44 million, five-year contract to Questar Assessment, Inc. to develop new exams in language arts and math for grades 3 to 8, according to Leslie Brody of The Wall Street Journal.
The London-based Pearson publishing giant has been criticized for scoring errors on some tests and for questions on tests which were confusing — particularly an infamous passage in a 2012 test about a talking pineapple.
The firm maintained a state contract from January 2012 through December 2015 for $32 million. A spokesperson for the education department said the Minneapolis-based Questar won among four bidders for the state contract. There will also be an option for administering the tests on computers.
“Our students deserve the best, most accurate assessments we can give them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a release. “Teachers and parents should have clear, practical information to help them help their students learn. Our goal is to continue to improve the assessments to make sure they provide the instructional support parents and teachers need to prepare our students for college and careers.”
This announcement was the first of any significance which has been made under the leadership of New York’s new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who began her job this week. Increased testing has been protested by parents since the passing of the No Child Left Behind law, but resistance has become more intense in recent years, reports Elizabeth A. Harris of The New York Times. The law was put in place to guarantee that students, especially the most needy students, were being educated properly.
Educators, parents, and union leaders began complaining that the tests were taking too much time away from classroom instruction. They also argued that some of the questions on the tests were developmentally unsuitable or, at times, even unintelligible. Currently, bills are moving through Congress aimed at making revisions to the No Child Left Behind law.
Jon Campbell of The Journal News reports that teachers will be asked to take part in the development of the new tests.
“New York State teachers will be involved in every step of the test development process,” Elia said in a statement. “Teacher input is critical to building a successful state test, and that’s why the new contract emulates the collaborative process used to develop the Regents Exams.”
New York’s standardized tests have been the target of an “opt out” movement across the state, with some parents have keeping their children from taking the tests as a form of protest against the exams. Unions, too, have been critical of the tests because they weigh significantly, and some say unfairly, in the evaluation of teachers and principals each year. Some teachers are of the opinion that the exams are not appropriate for the grade level for which they are designed.
John Baynes, president of the Fairport Educators Association in suburban Rochester, was skeptical.
“We might be making chicken salad out of chicken feet,” he said. “We have every hope this new group will do a much better job than Pearson did, but we’re wary of anything coming out of (the state Education Department).”