October 25, 2021

Pearson loses huge testing contract in New York — and gets more bad news

There’s more bad news for Pearson, the world’s largest education company and testing behemoth.The state of New York just announced that it was dropping Pearson as its testing vendor and instead was giving a $44 million, five-year contract to a smaller Minneapolis-based company called Questar Assessment Inc. Under a $32 million contract that ends this December, Pearson developed the Common Core-aligned tests that have been given to New York students for several years and that have sparked repeated complaints by students and educators about the validity of some questions.

More than 175,000 New York students had opted out of Common Core English Language Arts exams given in April — and many more districts were still unheard from.  New York is at the center of a growing movement among parents around the country to protest new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core (or similar state standards) that they think are unfair to students and teachers because the results are used for high-stakes decisions against the advice of assessment experts. The post also mentioned some complaints from teachers about the composition of the tests, which are aligned to the Core and were created for the state of New York by Pearson, the largest education company in the world.

A few months ago, Pearson lost its three-decade testing monopoly in Texas, with the Educational Testing Service winning the largest part of the state’s new testing contract — $280 million — over the next four years, with Pearson keeping some $60 million in testing business. Pearson’s last contract with Texas was for $468 million over five years, ending this year.

In 2014, Pearson, it lost its contract to provide a standardized assessment system for public schools in Florida, and a new $220 million, six-year contract instead went to the AIR (formerly known as the American Institutes of Research).

There’s more. Pearson is the primary vendor for PARCC, the chief contractor for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two multi-state consortia charged with designing new Common Core-aligned exams with some $360 million in federal funds. In 2010, 26 states were aligned with PARCC, but now there fewer than 10 states, with Arkansas and Ohio just dropping out, and Mississippi doing so early this year.

Pearson-created Common Core tests in New York have been the target of complaints for several years, including a now infamous question about a “talking pineapple” on a 2012 standardized reading test given to eighth-grade students, which students and adults said didn’t make sense. Ultimately, the question wasn’t counted in students’ scores. But questions about other questions have continued, including these concerns expressed this year by educators:

  • Requiring fourth graders to write about the architectural design of roller coasters and why cables are used instead of chains
  • A sixth-grade passage from “That Spot” by Jack London, which included words and phrases such as “beaten curs,” “absconders of justice,” surmise, “savve our cabin,” and “let’s maroon him”
  • A passage on the third-grade test from “Drag Racer” which has a grade level of 5.9 and an interest level of 9-12th grade.

New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch suggested dissatisfaction with Pearson’s work over the past several years in a statement about the change:

“Our students deserve the best, most accurate assessments we can give them. 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 new contract also recognizes how vitally important it is to have New York State teachers involved in the test development process.”

Pearson has experienced repeated problems with its tests in many states over the years, and this year was no exception. These are just some of issues Pearson faced so far in 2015, as collected by FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a non-profit that works to end the misuse of standardized testing: