Tennessee Gives Pearson ‘Emergency’ Test Scoring Contract, Seeks New Vendor

Associate Editor

Pearson has been awarded a contract worth about $18.5 million for scoring 2015-16 assessments in Tennessee after the state terminated a contract in April with Measurement Inc. over glitches in implementing the test, the state department of education announced this week.

The new seven-month contract with Pearson was finalized using an emergency procurement process after the education department collaborated with the state’s central procurement office, according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document the department released.

Pearson, a global education company that counts assessments as less than 10 percent of its total revenues, will score about 1.8 million tests. The company offered a competitive price comparable to what Measurement, Inc. would have been paid for the same work, a department spokesman said.

The contract covers only scoring and reporting Part I for grades 3-8 and Part I and Part II for high school. Districts will receive raw information for Part I in grades 3-8, while districts, teachers, and parents will receive more detailed information for high school students.

A separate search is underway to select a vendor to develop and administer next year’s TNReady assessments, education commissioner Candice McQueen said in an email she sent to district superintendents.

The state will be working closely with the central procurement office in strengthening the criteria in the next assessment contract–including providing specific technical requirements for the administration of both online and paper tests, and examining successful experiences in other states.

Measurement, Inc. ran into problems this testing season when, on the first day of the exam, computer screens froze and servers shut down, forcing the state’s superintendent to call off the test. Then, the company was unable to produce enough paper copies quickly enough to meet the state’s demands.

Among the factors the department is considering in the selection of a new vendor for next year are an assessment provider that can:

  • Develop quality content aligned to the state’s academic standards;
  • Track records of administering large-scale assessment via paper and an online platform, and
  • Score and deliver results on a specific timeline.

In late 2014, Pearson was replaced as the state’s test provider for the Tennessee standardized tests. The company had developed, administered, and scored the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for grades 3-8 and/or the end-of-course exams for high school. Measurement Inc., whose Tennessee contract to develop the state’s standardized tests, was worth up to $108 million over five years.

Pearson CEO John Fallon, in an earnings call with stock analysts last month, signaled his company’s interest in stepping in to help after recent news about testing breakdowns in Tennessee, Texas, and other states.

“Our view in all these things is, if we can help current or former customers, or hopefully future customers again, we’ll do so,” he said.

Last year, Pearson lost a hotly contested bid in California to provide a suite of K-12 assessments. However Pearson has had some problems of its own: in New Jersey, human error caused a technical problem that resulted in a one-day delay for testing through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC consortium, and a potential test security issue arose in the U.K. when a “rogue scorer” uploaded test responses to a secure site.

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