Back in February I wrote about the strange phenomenon whereby Pearson Education, the education publishing company, has managed to take over standardized testing around the world, despite never really being able to make good on its promises to improve student performance, and despite widespread allegations that the company’s testing methods are traumatic for students and methodologically flawed.
Well this year something occurred that rarely happens to Pearson. The company lost the contract to administer standardized tests in Texas public schools. According to an article by Morgan Smith in the Texas Tribune:
For the first time in three decades, a new company is poised to develop and administer the state-required exams Texas students begin taking in the third grade.
The state is in negotiations with Educational Testing Service, or ETS, to take over the bulk of the four-year, $340 million student assessment contract, the Texas Education Agency announced Monday.
ETS will (basically) replace Pearson, which has been the only game in town for years.
…Pearson Education has held the state’s largest education-related contract — most recently, a five-year, $468 million deal to provide state exams through 2015 — since Texas began requiring state student assessments in the 1980s.
As the Legislature moved to reduce the state’s standardized testing program in response to widespread outcry from parents and school leaders in 2013, the state’s contract with Pearson became the focus of much criticism. Many lawmakers, including former Senate Education Committee Chairman and now Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, attacked what they viewed as the company’s excessive influence in the policy-making process and called for greater scrutiny of testing contracts.
The state audited the relationship in 2013 and determined that “although statewide tests were administered and graded in a timely manner, the [Texas Education] Agency lacks adequate processes for monitoring the contract.”
The end of the Pearson contract doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well in Texas. There’s too much standardized testing in the state’s schools, and changing the provider to ETS won’t necessarily fix the structural problem here.
But at least there’s some accountability going on. This is actually why we have private companies contracted out by governments to perform services in the first place: so that if service is poor governments can find other providers to do the same thing better.
Dineen Majcher, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful State Assessment, told the Dallas Morning News that she hopes 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.”
Yes, here’s hoping.