Thursday, July 25, 2013
Texas is a leader in the high stakes testing movement. Three years ago, the state awarded testing firm Pearson a five-year contract worth nearly a half-billion to produce, administer, and score student tests. Pearson's $468 million contract with Texas is more than ten times what New York state pays Pearson for standarized testing (albeit for fewer services than Texas contracted for). Austin's KUT News writes, "With 1,800 staff members in offices in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, the state is essentially contracting Pearson to act as a for-profit arm of the state’s educational infrastructure." But Texas' education budget is under the same pressures as every other state, and the state experienced sticker shock when Pearson's bills started showing up. That cost was compounded when students who did poorly on the tests had to attend summer classes to progress or to graduate--at local districts' expense. Former State Representative Jim Dunnam quoted in the New York Times in April said, "Legislators may not have recognized the influence of testing companies. There is just an inertia to not appreciating the money being made by private industry in public education.” Texas is learning that lesson by moving to pare down the amount of standardized testing. The state auditor also plans to increase state oversight of student testing contracts.
Update-Friday, July 26: The Texas Tribune reports today that a bill has been introduced in the state legislature to allow students who excel on reading and math tests to skip some standardized tests in a following year. To pass the bill, however, Texas may have to ask the Dept. of Education for a No Child Left Behind Waiver, something that the state may be loath to do given its prior commitment (and political allegiance) to NCLB. Read more at the Texas Tribune here.