State behind schedule on choosing a school testing vendor

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While students pour over test questions this week, the Texas Education Agency needs more time choosing the right testing vendor to handle state exams over the next four years. The original timeline for a final decision was mid-March, but a TEA spokesperson tells KXAN News negotiations are still ongoing because the committee needs more time to evaluate the proposals they’ve received. The new deadline is April.

In August, a lucrative four-year contract with Pearson will end. The company — which gets $82.4 million a year in state tax dollars — has come under scrutiny in recent years. They have developed, administered and scored state exams for Texas students since the state testing system was created more than 30 years ago.

Pearson did not wish to comment on securing a new contract, or the impact of losing it.

“From the outset we were very disappointed in the process,” said Theresa Trevino, the vice president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment.

The parent group said the selection process needs to be more transparent.

TEA has kept the companies submitting proposals confidential, but KXAN News has confirmed at least one other testing company besides Pearson is gunning for the contract: Education Testing Service. The company has provided testing services for grades 3-12 in 11 states over the past 15 years.

“It might be interesting to see what a new vendor could offer us,” said Trevino.

In an email response, ETS spokesman Jason Baran wrote:

“We submitted a bid in December, but because it is an active procurement we cannot comment on any aspect of it due to the confidentiality of our bidding process.”

TAMSA is not opposed to Pearson, but does not like their practice of using Craigslist to hire graders for the writing test. They also believe answers have been designed to trick students instead of measuring what they know. The TEA’s vendor decision could be part of the turning point for state testing as more people get fed up with the testing culture.

“Parents, educators and the kids themselves are stressed — they’re frustrated,” said Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.

He posted the following Tweet Sunday night:

                  Praying for all the Texas kids who won’t sleep tonight because they are anxious/scared about the STAAR test. We must change this! #txlege

A new vendor alone may not do much in the short-term for teachers and students.

“It’s my guess that students will notice very little difference,” said TEA Spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe.

Ratcliffe said unless the legislature makes a change, STAAR would remain the state test for students. The changes are more likely to be on the back-end with the test development, scoring and distribution of the test. If the contract is awarded to a different vendor, she said TEA would do its best to make the transition as seamless as possible.

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