For the past three decades, one company has developed and administered the required Texas exams which students in the state begin taking in the third grade. Now, Texas is negotiating with Educational Testing Service (ETS) to take over the major part of the four-year, $340 million student assessment contract from Pearson, the Texas Education Agency has announced.
The London-based Pearson Education company has held a $468 million, five year contract for state exams through 2015. Morgan Smith, reporting for The Texas Tribune, writes that the company will continue to develop the state’s assessments for special needs and foreign students. That portion of the contract is priced at $60 million.
Lawmakers, the former Senate Education Committee Chairman, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) had gone into battle with the company in 2013 while criticizing its excessive influence on education policy. Overall, leaders called for more intensive scrutiny of any future testing contracts. It was decided by the state auditor that the state education agency had not overseen the contract with Pearson in an adequate manner. Former Education Commissioner Michael Williams expressed his thanks to the state auditor’s office for the input and put the recommendations into effect.
Will students, teachers, or school officials notice any changes because of the new vendor choice? State officials did not answer that question. But Pearson issued a statement expressing disappointment and ETS said in a statement that their company was privileged and honored. Neither company answered any specific questions.
ETS will be taking over in a hostile environment, with education leaders having doubts over the past two years that STAAR testing and the accountability system it supports are credible. Many have already said that they were dubious as to whether the new vendor would be able to change what they already had decided was a lost cause. Others said there could be some value in cutting ties with Pearson, since the corporation has become a villain to so many, according to Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News.
Dineen Majcher is president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful State Assessment, a grass-roots group calling for fewer and lower-stakes exams, stated, “TAMSA is encouraged that at a minimum the costs appear to be substantially lower for ETS’ parts. Also, we hope that breaking the monopoly hold that Pearson had on Texas assessments will lead to a better product and diagnostic information that parents and teachers can use.”
The testing system is the issue, said Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant), vice chairman of the State Board of Education – not the testing tool. Chairman of the State Board of Education Barbara Cargill hopes that the new vendors will implement changes and improvements that are identifiable to people outside the testing industry.
“I hope that the biggest change will be that parents receive usable information about how their child scored and what the student can specifically do to improve,” she said. “We have not seen those specifics yet, but we will be very interested in learning more at our July board meeting.”