Standardized test supplier Pearson is out, Questar is in
By Rick Karlin
In making the announcement Thursday, education officials stressed they want New York teachers to be more involved in developing the new exams, which are given in grades 3 to 8.
Additionally, the Minneapolis-based Questar said it would eventually offer computerized testing options as well as traditional paper and pencil exams.
The decision to switch from Pearson, which is the one of the world’s largest test-makers, to Questar preceded the arrival of new state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who started Monday.
But she and the Regents were clearly emphasizing their attempts to get beyond the bitter controversy that has surrounded standardized testing for the past few years.
New York is revising its annual teacher evaluation system, and the use of standardized tests are a key component.
Part of teacher ratings, or evaluations, going forward will be based on how their students perform on those tests. While starting with grades 3-8, that concept will eventually expand to additional exams like the high school Regents.
That testing program has run into fierce opposition by teachers who believe it is unfair, and Pearson has become a lightning rod for these complaints.
Compounding the controversy were several errors and missteps on Pearson tests during the last few years.
The best example may have been in 2012 when a reading segment on a eighth-grade exam relayed a story of a hare and pineapple in a race.
After the hare wins, the talking pineapple is eaten.
Students had to answer a pair of baffling questions about whether the hare or pineapple was wiser and why the pineapple was consumed.
Then in 2013, Pearson ran into problems in New York City when students were erroneously told they didn’t score high enough for gifted and talented programs. It turned out that Pearson had assumed the students were all the same age, by not factoring their birth dates.
Parents statewide also have complained that their kids are being overtested. A growing group have simply opted out, or kept their kids from taking the non-compulsory exams.
New York State United Teachers, the state’s major teachers union and a longtime Pearson critic, cheered the news that a new testing firm was being hired.
“Pearson offered a bad product and today Pearson got fired,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “Teachers have called for this for years.”
Lawmakers who are close to NYSUT also weighed in.
“For too long, the State Education Department’s contract with Pearson Education Incorporated rendered them powerless,” said western New York Sen. Marc Panepinto, who received heavy NYSUT support in his race last November.
“Rather than develop a quality curriculum out of fairness for teachers and students, priority was placed on the corporate interests of those who never set foot inside our classrooms,” he said in a prepared statement.
“The State Education Department’s decision to partner with Questar is the right move for New York’s children,” added High Achievement, a group that supports the new Common Core learning standards, which are reflected in the tests.
The switch won’t save money, however.
Pearson’s contract was for $32 million, while this new five year deal is for $44 million.
Four firms bid on the most recent contract, although the names of the other bidders weren’t released on Thursday.
The state attorney general and comptroller still have to approve awarding of the contract.
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