Pearson, the largest education company in the world, has won a contract for a Common Core test administration project that has been described by the state leader who negotiated it as one of “unprecedented scale” in the realm of United States testing.
According to Education Week, James Mason, a Mississippi Department of Education state leader for PARCC, one of the Common Core test consortia, helped negotiate the contract, which was announced Friday. Mason described the contract as one of “unprecedented scale,” though he could not provide a dollar amount for the contract because the final price tag will depend on the number of students and states who actually participate, as well as other factors.
Though a number of education companies inquired about PARCC’s request for proposals for the project, Pearson ultimately was the only bidder, an outcome that should not draw questions about the soundness of their process, PARCC state officials say.
Pearson’s duties under the contract will include development of test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of results, analysis of test scores, and consulting with states to develop performance standards for the assessments.
“PARCC states wanted to ensure we got the best assessment at the best price possible,” said Christopher A. Koch, superintendent of education in Illinois, another PARCC state, in a statement on PARCC’s website. “By working together, we were able to get an innovative and high-quality assessment development and drive down costs for all states.”
According to Mason, Pearson has secured a number of subcontractors for the project, including ETS, WestEd, Caveon, and Measured Progress.
“This group of contractors represents a best-in-class collaboration that will help us bring testing to a whole new level,” said Mason in the PARCC statement. “The days of multiple-choice-only tests are over.”
“These are sophisticated assessments that focus on the path to success beyond high school. They include comprehension, concepts, application, writing, problem solving, critical thinking and reasoning,” he added. “We have a strong team supporting us and we will continue to challenge our contractors to push the envelope on rigor and innovation.”
According to the contract, the per student assessment price is expected to be about $24.
Regarding the announcement, Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post observed that two years ago, the nonprofit group FairTest predicted that while education policy makers promised Common Core reforms would increase competition and innovation, the same education firms that scored the big contracts in the past would still do so in the age of Common Core.
Pearson has had its share of interesting associations and controversy as well.
In 2010, the year most state boards of education were adopting the Common Core standards, Pearson purchased America’s Choice, the for-profit subsidiary of progressive Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), which had assisted Bill and Hillary Clinton in achieving their education goals during President Clinton’s two terms. Later, Tucker served on the feedback team for the Common Core English/Language Arts standards, and two senior fellows from America’s Choice, Phil Daro and Sally Hampton, served, respectively, on the math and ELA work groups that drafted the Common Core standards.
Pearson acquired America’s Choice for $80 million, and proceeds from the sale created a $3.6 million per year endowment for NCEE. In addition, Daro and Hampton then became senior fellows at Pearson.
In December, the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the education giant, agreed to a settlement of $7.7 million after accusations by the attorney general of New York that it helped develop Common Core-aligned courses for Pearson, Inc., its corporate parent.
As Breitbart News reported, New York State’s attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman argued that Pearson, Inc. worked to develop a series of courses, instructional materials, and software aligned with the Common Core standards.
“Pearson, Inc. decided to develop its Common Core aligned course offerings within the Foundation, with substantial funding by Pearson, Inc., in order to attract foundation support and credibility for its commercial products,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
“Pearson, Inc. and the Pearson Charitable Foundation planned that the courses developed within the Foundation would be sold commercially by Pearson, Inc.,” he continued. “Internal business analyses prepared by Pearson, Inc. projected that potential profits from sales of the courses and related offerings could be in the tens of millions of dollars.”
According to a report in the New York Times, Schneiderman also asserted that Pearson, Inc. had planned to use its charitable foundation “to win endorsements and donations from a ‘prominent foundation.’ That group appears to be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” which has been the primary source of private funding for the Common Core standards.