Pearson Loses Out on N.Y. Testing Contract to Questar

Senior Editor

Pearson suffered another setback in the state testing market today, when New York officials announced they would not re-hire the company for a major piece of assessment work, instead choosing Questar Assessment Inc., to conduct a group of exams in grades 3-8.

Questar, based in Minnesota, will be awarded a five-year contract worth $44 million, pending approval of the deal by New York’s state attorney general and comptroller.

Pearson, a giant education company based in New York and London, has come up short on a number of big state testing contracts in recent months.

In May, Texas state officials announced that a suite of state assessments that had been overseen by Pearson would be awarded to the Educational Testing Service, in a deal estimated at $280 million. ETS also beat out Pearson and McGraw-Hill Education CTB for a huge testing contract in California, valued at $240 million.

The scope of New York’s testing work is smaller, and contains two main pieces, New York State Education Department officials said.

The first component is for the development of assessments in grades 3-8 English/language arts and math, along with a bank of test items. The second piece is help New York shift to the use of computer-based exams in those grades and subjects. 

In announcing the award, state officials vowed—repeatedly—that the new assessments would be developed with heavy input from the state’s teachers.

It is “vitally important … to have New York state teachers involved in the test development process,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a statement. “Teacher input is critical to building a successful state test,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. Teachers will be “instrumental in the development of the assessment at several stages in the process,” the statement also says.

New York’s exams have been heavily criticized by some teachers, who have questioned how the state will use the assessments in their evaluations, in addition to raising concerns about the tests’ quality and the time they siphon from instruction.

Pearson, meanwhile, has many critics in New York and elsewhere, who see the company as symbolic of a testing industry that has far too much sway in states and school districts.

Questar officials declined to be interviewed about the New York award. But an official with Questar directed a reporter to a company description of its work, which says it has successfully implemented more than 100 large-scale assessment programs across 19 different states since 1976.” 

In recent years, the company has conducted various “benchmark,” end-of-course, and criterion-referenced tests in Arkansas, Indiana, and North Carolina, it says.

New York adopted the common core, and the state’s RFP says the E/LA and math assessments will measure student skills against those academic benchmarks. New York is a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium of states that developing tests aligned to the common core. 

But as my colleague Catherine Gewertz has reported, New York has not yet embraced PARCC’s tests. And on Thursday, the state’s education department told my colleague Andrew Ujifusa that New York has “no current plans to adopt the PARCC assessments.”

Four companies bid for the New York testing contract, state officials said. Pearson was one of the losing vendors. A company official voiced disappointed with the state’s decision.

“Pearson has a long, proud history of serving students, parents and educators in New York,” Laura Howe, Pearson’s vice-president for media and communities, said in an e-mail.

“We will continue to serve the people of New York through our other assessment work along with learning materials and higher education services … We are focused on the delivery of our current assessment and we look forward to driving innovation and opportunities for students of all ages.”

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