Pearson Wins Major Contract From Common-Core Testing Consortium

Managing Editor

The global education company Pearson has landed a major contract to administer tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of “unprecedented scale” in the U.S. testing arena by one official who helped negotiate it.

The decision to award the contract, announced Friday, was made by a group of states developing tests linked to the common core for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two main consortia of states creating exams to match the standards.

Pearson is expected to perform a broad range of duties under the contract, including development of test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of results, analysis of scores, and working with states to develop “cut scores,” or performance standards for the exams.

While a number of companies inquired in response to PARCC’s request for proposals for the project, ultimately Pearson was the only bidder, said James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract as part of a team of PARCC state leaders. 

In an interview with Education Week, Mason said he could not provide a dollar figure for the contract, because the pricetag will depend on how many students and states end up participating, and whether they choose computerized or paper-and-pencil tests, among other factors.

But he described the contract with Pearson as one of “unprecedented scale, in terms of states coming together. It’s a pretty significant event in a number of ways.”

One aspect of the deal with Pearson that is sure to get attention is the PARCC states’ prediction that it will result in an assessment price of about $24 per student. That’s down from a previous estimate of $29.50. (See the post on Curriculum Matters by my colleague and common-core authority Catherine Gewertz for a more detailed look at the pricing issues and implications.)

While a number of companies initially inquired about bidding for the contract, in the end Pearson was the only one to bid, Mason said. Despite that, PARCC state officials are convinced the process was sound and resulted in the best vendor getting hired, Mason said. The list of experienced subcontractors secured by Pearson, who include ETS, WestEd, Caveon, and Measured Progress, also gave PARCC state officials confidence, the Mississippi official added.

“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. “By working together, we were able to get an innovative and high-quality assessment development and drive down costs for all states.”

Pearson has a worldwide footprint in education. The company says it operates in 70 countries, though 60 percent of its sales are in North America, and in the United States it is major player not just in assessment, but in curriculum, technology, publishing, and other areas.

The $24-per-student price was reached after “very aggressive negotiating” between PARCC state officials and Pearson, a back-and-forth that lasted weeks, he said. He attributed the lower-than-previously-estimated per-student cost partly to economies of scale that can be achieved through having large numbers of states and students participating at once.

Mason also noted that other education companies had myriad opportunities to make bids, but chose not to do so.

“Everybody in the industry knew this was coming for years,” Mason said of PARCC’s RFP for testing. Giving the process more time “would not have resulted in anything different.”

Gauging the total cost of the contract is not as simple as it is for a state charged with negotiating with a vendor, in which the state and vendor agree “we’ll do it for X million,” said Mason. By contrast, figuring out the costs for multiple states in PARCC will depend on what they choose from an “a la carte” menu of testing options, he said. 

The PARCC states to date have had three contracts with Pearson, according to the consortium. One of those contracts calls for the London- and New York-based company, along with ETS, to do test-item development during year one of the common core, which includes the process of extensive field-testing underway in the states this year.


12 thoughts on “Pearson Wins Major Contract From Common-Core Testing Consortium

  1. "Pearson was the only bidder," said James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract as part of a team of PARCC state leaders.

    "PARCC state officials are convinced the process was sound and resulted in the best vendor getting hired," Mason said.

    Why was Pearson the only bidder? How can Mr. Mason claim that Pearson is the best vendor when it is the only one that bid? Technically, it’s also the worst.

    On the relationship between Pearson and the Governor of a PARCC state, see

  2. What kind of idiotic comment is this? Supported by question marks instead of evidence, and ended with a blogger’s opinion instead of facts. Bleh.

  3. All as we expected.
    The giveaway is the price.

    No one can produce a meaningful test for $24/student. But you get what you pay for.

  4. A rather classless and offensive comment from someone who doesn’t seem to be associated with education, and who hides behind "only a pseudonym. Some people are able to criticize a comment with class, but clearly, that’s not your style, is it?

  5. That’s not clear at all and – in fact – this price represents an increase in cost per student for some PARCC states.

  6. Local control is being lost. The over emphasis on end of year state-wide test results continues to grab headlines. Each year I read about districts spending valuable time trying to redesign curriculum based on the “weaknesses” as determined by these results. Teacher evaluation is now being directly linked to the performance of their students on these exams. Teaching to the test inevitably becomes a necessity if teachers want to protect their jobs.

    What a waste of precious time and financial resources. In terms of effectively measuring “college and career readiness”, the results of these exams ought to be moved from the front burner to the back.

    What is missing as school districts wrestle with implementing any set of state standards designed to prepare students for college, career and life is a tool that will give the district local control over the priority knowledge and skill items their students need to acquire for future success. This tool must provide administrators and teachers with a viable, clearly articulated, measurable set of learning objectives, with a focus on the cross disciplinary skills (writing, problem solving, creative thinking, collaboration, oral communication, social responsibility, entrepreneurialism, etc.)

    By local control, I mean the ability 1) to easily select and align the same measurable learning objectives emphasizing continuous improvement to lessons and assessments across all subjects and grade levels, sharpening the focus for all educators and learners on the shared responsibility to impart these critical skills; 2) to clearly see learning progressions by demonstrating where in the district’s curriculum each one is taught; and 3) to provide real-time, not end of year, analytics based on student scores that guide timely decisions about where adjustment to instruction is needed.

    Although end of year test analytics do little to foster continuous improvement for individual students, I do believe the results can be beneficial. Simply by aligning the analytics from tests like PARCC to the learning objectives being measured locally, these results will offer another tool to evaluate district efforts. Continuous improvement in student learning and teacher effectiveness, however, cannot be measured by an end of year exam.

    Leonard (Dino) Larouche
    CEO KnowledgeWare21

Leave a Reply