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Pearson Holds All “PARCC-Consortium-Developed Items”

December 12, 2014

A major question of late among Louisiana administrators and teachers involves Louisiana’s supposed spring 2015 “PARCC” assessments:

Since Louisiana has no contract with official PARCC testing vendor Pearson, where will the mysterious “PARCC-consortium-developed items” come from for Louisiana’s “PARCC” tests?

The short answer:

Pearson. 

The items will come directly from Pearson in an arrangement not allowed any legitimately-paying PARCC state.

I challenge Louisiana Superintendent John White to publicly contradict me.

On December 11, 2014, in a post highlighting a list of Louisiana state leaders involved in PARCC” (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), I noted that the individuals listed were heavy on supervision and review and light on item writing.

There is a reason for that.

PARCC solicited professional assessment companies to write the items.

Not teachers. Not administrators.

In December 2011, then-PARCC-fiscal-agent Florida issued this Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) the PARCC assessment item development. In short, two companies were offered contracts to create PARCC items: Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Pearson. Item development was to happen in two 15-month phases. Resulting items were to be included in the 2013-14 PARCC assessment field test leading to the 2014-15 PARCC operational assessment. As excerpted from Florida’s PARCC ITN:

The state of Florida Department of Education (hereinafter referred to as the “Department”) is soliciting written replies from qualified vendors to establish a term contract of which the term is anticipated to begin upon execution of the contract and be effective for (15) months thereafter. 

Award will be made to the responsible and responsive vendor that the Department determines will provide the best value to the state. The resulting contract may be renewed for up to an additional 15 months….  …

The purpose of this Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) is to solicit response/replies from organizations interested in participating in PARCC‘s grant from the U.S. Department of Education‘s Race to the Top Assessment Program. PARCC is a consortium of states working together to develop a common set of grades 3-11 assessments in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics….

The PARCC assessments will be field-tested in 2013-2014 and ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year. The Department, as PARCC‘s fiscal agent, intends to contract with one or more organizations to assist in the creation of items and tasks for PARCC‘s assessment system. … The successful Respondent(s) will develop and conduct the review of items and tasks for the summative Performance-Based Assessment and End-of-Year Assessment components, as well as the non-summative Mid-Year Assessment component. 

The results of the initial awarding of ETS and Pearson contracts for PARCC item development is also summarized on the PARCC consortium website.

By the time that the two 15-month item writing periods were up, ETS was out of the PARCC picture, and Pearson remained to field test the PARCC assessments in 2013-14. The 2014-18 Pearson-PARCC contract alludes to the field test on page 23; Pearson is also mentioned in this field test report, and its PARCC item writing and field testing are noted in this American Institutes for Research (AIR) protest of Pearson’s PARCC involvement (page 2).

The point is, all “PARCC-consortium-developed items” up to the field test were test-company-originated items (by either ETS or Pearson) that were reviewed (not written) by “educators” associated with the PARCC consortium. Page 13 of Florida’s ITN outlines the intention of those two 15-month contracts was to result in 100 percent of the total number of English language arts and math items leading up to the field test.

Once Pearson was awarded the contract for the 2013-14 field test, Pearson became the source for “PARCC-consortium-developed items.”

Pearson’s supply of PARCC assessment items continues with its 2014-18 operational assessment contract, as does the PARCC consortium review of such items. As noted on page 25:

Contractor shall develop items, tasks, texts, stimulus materials, and scoring materials…. 

These committees will review test items, tasks, and texts to ensure they meet the requirements detailed in the PARCC quality guidelines. The Committees include (1) Text Review; (2) Core Leadership Group; (3) State Educator; (4) Bias and Sensitivity; (5) Editorial Review.

One notable distinction between the PARCC test items developed for the 2013-14 field test and those developed as part of the 2014-18 operational assessment involves financing. Whereas the original, field-tested items were funded with USDOE money for the PARCC consortium grant, those produced under the 2014-18 operational assessment (and which will undergo field testing, as well) are funded by the ten states plus DC that are paying for Pearson’s PARCC assessments.

Now, here is the kicker: If White has stated in Louisiana’s amended, temporary, extended NCLB waiver application that Louisiana’s 2014-15 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) assessments for grades 3 through 8 in ELA and math “will contain only items developed through the PARCC consortium”(page 29), those items must come from Pearson.

Pearson has the PARCC item bank (see page 99 of the 2014-18 Pearson-PARCC contract).

Louisiana has no assessment contract with Pearson. Still, in this December 10, 2014, NewsStar article— the one in which Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer says that he’s “never been concerned where tests come from”– reporter Barbara Leader notes,

According to the Department of Education, Louisiana’s students will be tested using PARCC questions administered by the DRC (Data Recognition Corp), which has a licensing agreement with Pearson. [Emphasis added.]

So. Either DRC is paying Pearson for the use of those “PARCC-consortium-developed items,” or Pearson is donating them. Either way, those “consortium-developed items” must be coming from Pearson.

Now, according to the PARCC Consortium Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among PARCC states, Louisiana was supposed to prepare to secure a legitimate PARCC assessment contract by 2014-15:

A Governing State must develop a plan for the statewide implementation of the Consortium’s assessment system by 2014-15, including removing or resolving statutory, regulatory and policy barriers to implementation, and securing funding for implementation.

This was written in August 2012– well over two years ago–and at a time when White and BESE could have easily followed procedures to devise a legitimate PARCC contract.

By 2012, the Pearson-as-PARCC-choice writing was already on the wall.

In 2014, White is rigging an arrangement and trying to conceal the details.

The thing about using too much concealer is it highlights rather than conceals.

Regardless of whether LDOE is paying DRC for laundered Pearson-PARCC items or Pearson is outright donating them– and regardless of whether the items in question are the federally-funded field test items or those developed later– Louisiana is being given a privilege that the ten states plus DC have not been offered– the opportunity to take PARCC items and have another vendor develop the assessments.

Surely Pearson would not cut its profits by offering such a common-assessment-defying option to all PARCC consortium states and DC. However, in the case of Louisiana, Pearson is just helping the state get by until it can enter into a future contract with Pearson.

Better keep that privilege under wraps.

But there is more to this Louisiana-favoring situation:

If Pearson is donating to Louisiana any PARCC items that have been developed under the 2014-18 operational contract, then Pearson is allowing Louisiana to have items that ten other states and DC have paid for– and which they might have paid less for had Louisiana been part of the legitimate PARCC contract with Pearson in 2014-15.

Pearson notes on page 65 of its 2014-18 PARCC contract three possible pricing tiers for Pearson-PARCC tests. The associated explanation is, in short, that the more students there are taking Pearson-PARCC tests across all testing states, the lower the cost will be for the tests.

There is no provision for states freeloading via a secretive arrangement for “licensed” vendors to utilize “donated” PARCC items.

If not donation– if DRC is paying on behalf of Louisiana to use the items– then legitimate Pearson-PARCC-contracted states and DC could sue Pearson for the undeclared-yet-benefiting Louisiana students who might otherwise be counted toward Pearson’s pricing tiers and who, instead, are actually helping Pearson secretly pad its profits.

Whether Pearson offers Louisiana previously-created, field-test items or items developed during the 2014-18 Pearson-PARCC contract, any shifty, White-and-Roemer-led Louisiana procurement of Pearson’s “PARCC-consortium-developed items” would leave Pearson owing ten states plus DC some answers and possibly some money.

_______________________________________________

Schneider is author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

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6 Comments
  1. fblueher permalink

    The writing of the assessments sounds just like the writing of the CCSS—-not one teacher/administrator took pen to paper on either!

  2. Sunshine permalink

    Who is going to be writing the SBAC test?

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