The Price of Pearson


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 11:26 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 11 at 5:00 PM

AUSTIN -- Elly Smith spends hours each week studying, but her mom believes standardized testing is big a waste of time and money.

“There's no other state in the country that comes even close to this level of punitive requirement on students," her mother, Dineen Majcher, explains.

The Austin mother is a member of TAMSA, or Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.

The group believes the state puts an unnecessary emphasis on standardized testing and pays Pearson, the British company hired to administer the tests, too much money.

According to state records, the Defenders found Texans spend more money on standardized testing than any other state.

The state's contract with Pearson requires Texas to pay the company $95 million this year. By 2015, tax payers will have paid the company $1.1 billion.

Pearson does not set policy in Texas. It won its contract after multiple companies submitted bids about 13 years ago.

Majcher would rather see that money put in the classroom. "What are we getting for that $1 billion? I would suggest to you that we are not getting the value that $1 billion could otherwise provide for true valid education," she said.

To put it in perspective, that billion dollars could pay for 1,277 new teachers earning $50,000 a year for the next 15 years.

"In almost every facet of education, all roads lead back to the test," contended Holly Eaton, a spokesperson for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

"It would be so much more beneficial and structurally sound to put that money into struggling students and back into instruction in the classroom," said Eaton.

Digging deeper, the KVUE Defenders also found the state spends more money per student on tests than several other states. For example, Texas taxpayers pay Pearson about $24 per student. California pays its testing company about $16 per student on testing.

By email, a Pearson representative argues each state's contract is different and requires different types of testing.

It also adds Texas mandates more testing than required writing, “Texas state law requires more than the federal law."

California uses fewer tests than Texas does too.

State Representative Dan Huberty is concerned with the cost. The Republican from Kingwood sits on the state's House Public Education Committee.

He and his colleagues have filed at least 75 bills this session that could reduce the number of tests and its cost, but Huberty doesn't want to eliminate testing altogether.

"You have to have accountability. We're not going to provide $50 billion in money to the schools without some sort of check and balance associated with that," explained Huberty.

We also found documented problems with Pearson. New York's attorney general is investigating the testing company’s foundation, and state administrators found more than two dozen errors on tests last year.

Texas also fined Pearson $491,774 in 2012 for not meeting internal testing deadlines.

"Anytime that you have taxpayer dollars that are being used, and a group is not hitting the guidelines or the goals that they are supposed to hit, it clearly is a concern," said Huberty.

In response to missing deadlines, Pearson wrote to the Defenders it, "was one day late."

Pearson admits it made mistakes in New York explaining, "...occasionally mistakes do happen....when they do occur, we take immediate responsibility, work to fix the problem quickly..."

The state's contract with Pearson runs until 2015. If the legislature reduces the number of tests, it's not clear whether Texas would still have to pay the nearly $200 million remaining in the contract.

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