On May 1, McGraw Hill officially apologized to school communities in Indiana, Oklahoma and elsewhere affected by failures in on-line assessments. Failures led local school districts to temporarily suspend testing, the company’s statement noted, adding “We regret the impact on these schools and students and have made changes to correct the situation.” (Statement)
On-line and paper assessments are big business, and such mishaps result in large fines for the companies involved. But there is still much money to be made.
“Testing for Dollars” appears as Track 2 on this week’s broadcast: Full recording of May 9, 2013 edition of The Education Town Hall, broadcast on We Act Radio (WPWC 1480 AM in DC, http://www.WeActRadio.com).
Over 300,000 children in Indiana alone were affected by the problems, according to an NBC report from Indianapolis. Fifth grader BJ Watts, who also sits on the State Board of Education, described the situation as follows: “‘Let’s go, wait no, hold up. Let’s go, no, hold up.’ It’s frustrating.”
The state of Indiana has a $95 million 4-year contract with McGraw Hill, which is now under reconsideration. Thousands of students in Oklahoma also suffered testing interruptions, prompting calls for reconsidering that state’s contract with McGraw Hill. But Oklahoma recently switched to McGraw Hill assessments after years of serious trouble with Pearson Education’s testing.
Pearson, another giant in education-related revenue, has suffered its share of problems around the country, including delays and errors in scoring.
Pearson was cited this year for scoring errors that blocked several thousand students from entering a gifted and talented program in New York State. The company is also under scrutiny for product placements – complete with descriptions of products and their trademarks – in the middle of assessments.
Long-Term, Widespread Testing Effects
Beyond logistics of testing and scoring, the emphasis on testing has great consequences for school budgets.
For instance, Mark Naison, director of Fordham University’s Urban Studies program, wrote recently about how testing mania and the federal Race to the Top program are moving education dollars out of local communities and handing it to these outside companies. The testing companies do not employ local people, however, which means money flowing out of the communities. In addition, the budget pressures mean that local positions – including librarians and other staff directly supporting student learning – are cut just to support high-stakes testing enterprises. (See LA Progressive; also With a Brooklyn Accent.)
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