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Source: California Department of Education webast

Interim Deputy State Superintendent Keric Ashley answered state board members' questions about the recommendation to choose ETS' bid during a meeting Wednesday of the State Board of Education.

The State Board of Education last week endorsed the current contractor’s three-year, quarter-billion-dollar bid to continue administering the state’s standardized testing system – but only if it agrees to extensively involve teachers in scoring the parts of the new tests on the Common Core standards that can’t be done by machine.

Board members voted unanimously to approve Educational Testing Service’s contract on the condition the company duplicate the teacher-participation model that a losing bidder, Pearson School, a division of the textbook and education giant Pearson, had proposed. Pearson’s plan was closer to the original vision of educators such as Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Education, who, in pitching the Smarter Balanced test to California education officials, had said that involving teachers in scoring “performance tasks” would improve classroom instruction.

Pearson’s proposal said that training in scoring would be part of a larger professional development effort in the Common Core standards. County offices of education would provide the teacher trainings in local schools. The nonprofit research agency WestEd and the Sacramento County Office of Education would be hired to lead the initiative.

Doug Kubach, CEO and president of Pearson School, said if the state goes through with its plan to adopt Pearson’s strategy to work with teachers even though it rejected the company’s bid, Pearson would probably file a lawsuit. Evidence would show, he said, that state officials preferred ETS from the start.

“We typically don’t do litigation – it’s an uphill struggle with a high barrier of evidence – but this case is so egregious that there may be no alternative,” Kubach said in an interview. “We had hoped the state board would have taken more time to fully evaluate the proposals.”

California Department of Education officials defended the bidding process as fair and thorough. It included two evaluation panels made up of department employees and other local district appointees followed by a review by an outside consultant. In a March 6 letter to the state board recommending ETS’s selection, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the process was designed to exceed state regulations ensuring a “competitive and open process” based on standardized scoring criteria.

Pearson School is the Minnesota-based assessment division of British-based Pearson, the world’s largest education publishing and services company. It and McGraw-Hill’s California Test Bureau lost out in a three-bid competition to ETS, which for 13 years has had the contract to administer the state’s standardized testing program, including the first year of Smarter Balanced, the new assessments of the Common Core standards.

“I feel fortunate that (the California Department of Education) received three responsive proposals from three highly respected companies,” Torlakson wrote in his March 6 letter to the state board. Then, explaining the choice, he said, “ETS’s flexibility and corporate agility will allow negotiations and scope(s) of work to benefit” the state, its teachers and students.

The department will now have two months to negotiate the terms of the contract with ETS before returning to the state board for final approval in May.

Pearson ranked lowest among the three bidders, whose proposals underwent technical reviews. It received 769 points out of a possible 1,200, compared with 794 for McGraw-Hill and 932 for ETS. ETS outscored Pearson in areas including assessment development, test security and administration, technology support and its overall comprehensive plan and schedule of deliverables of the online assessments.

Pearson got little credit – only 9 extra points – for submitting the lowest bid of $206 million, which was $34 million less than ETS’s. McGraw-Hill got a slightly higher score in the cost category even though its bid was $17 million more than Pearson’s, at $223 million – which Kubach found befuddling. A summary of the analysis of the cost didn’t explain why.

Some board members, however, were drawn to Pearson’s extensive plan to include California teachers in scoring the sections of the online Smarter Balanced math and English-language arts tests that require students to show writing and research skills and to explain how they solved problems and demonstrated critical thinking. These sections are more complex than previous California Standards Tests.

Teachers would be paid $17 to $19 per hour, and the trainings would be the largest expense of the overall contract, Kubach said.

ETS and McGraw-Hill also promised extensive teacher involvement in the hand-scoring process. But ETS is struggling to meet that goal as it administers this spring’s initial Smarter Balanced test. It has recruited more than 6,000 scorers, of which it expects to certify about half. So far, fewer than 250 of those scorers are teachers, it reported. ETS is paying $13 per hour and requires that a scorer hold a college degree.

In their discussion following short presentations by each bidder, several board members singled out Pearson for its commitment to hire only teachers to hand-score parts of the new Smarter Balanced tests.

Board member Trish Williams commended all three proposals while praising Pearson’s inclusion of WestEd specifically because of its expertise on the Next Generation Science Standards and in science and math education, and the commitment to involving teachers. “Relying on teachers will be critical going forward,” she said. She noted that Pearson’s proposed cost was “quite a bit less expensive.” (see note below)**

Patricia Rucker, who is employed as a lobbyist by the California Teachers Association, said she supported Pearson’s bid because there was a “qualitative difference” in intent to exclusively recruit teachers for the hand-scoring. She also acknowledged the irony of her choice. For teachers who view new academic standards as a vehicle for a multibillion-dollar market for new textbooks, assessments and services, Pearson, as the biggest player, has become their shorthand for corporate profiteering. It has become a target for invective on Twitter and attacks by writers such as education historian Diane Ravitch and a recent investigative piece by Stephanie Simon of Politico. Unlike Pearson, ETS is a nonprofit corporation.

Controversies also have fed Pearson’s reputation. The FBI is investigating Los Angeles Unified’s contract with Apple Computer and Pearson, which were to supply iPads pre-loaded with Pearson’s Common Core curriculum. The investigation is focused on allegations that the companies may have had an inside track in negotiations with Superintendent John Deasy and his chief deputy. In December 2013, Pearson agreed to pay the state of New York $7.7 million to settle charges that its charitable foundation illegally developed products for, and steered clients to, the company’s for-profit operations.

Rucker said her mailbox is filled daily with complaints about corporate involvement in education and the “pedantic mania about assessments.” But, she said, only one vendor – Pearson – addressed the level of teacher involvement and a decentralized approach to teacher training that California teachers advocate.

In the end, all board members agreed with the department’s recommendation of ETS after Torlakson said that teacher participation would be strengthened during the contract negotiations. Board member Ilene Straus’s motion to move forward with ETS included a provision that basically called for copying Pearson’s approach on teacher scoring.

Kubach characterized making approval of a bidder conditional on taking the ideas and plans of a competitor “not customary and unethical.” But Keric Ashley, an interim deputy superintendent involved in overseeing the contract bidding, denied that the conditional approval was improper.

“There is certainly nothing unethical about the State getting the best product from its resources – ideas and approaches to recruiting teachers are not proprietary,” he wrote in an email. “This isn’t a case of taking someone else’s software.”

Kubach also blasted the department for shredding the notes of the individual evaluators and comments on the proposals that led to the scoring. “The public will never know how they evaluated and reached a consensus. There should be public records that the process was fair and accurate.”

Ashley defended the process. “Individual notes are shredded because they are only that – the notes by an individual. The only scoring and comments that count are the consensus scoring and comments,” he wrote, adding that the board received those. “The individual notes aren’t relevant once the scores are discussed and agreed upon.” He said a lack of thoroughness was one of the reasons Pearson’s bid received the lowest score.

The sole member of the public to view the extensive submission documents and to speak at the hearing on the contract, Doug McRae, sided with Kubach in his public comments. McRae, a retired specialist in assessments who was employed primarily for McGraw-Hill but did work for the other two vendors during his career, called the evaluation process “extremely flawed.” The ratings on bid costs “isn’t credible at all,” and other aspects of the evaluation should have revealed very close ratings that would have improved Pearson’s chances as the low bidder, he said in a statement before the board vote.

“The bottom line is that overall Pearson had a very competitive proposal with the lowest bid,” he wrote. “The state board should recognize this reality, and select Pearson.”

** This  story was updated on March 17 with a correction. It had incorrectly stated that board member Trish Williams recommended that the board select Pearson for the contract. 


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  1. Concerned Parent 2 years ago2 years ago

    From what I read as a parent, it seems that there are people making decisions who are lobbied to make the choices and the entire way the selection is done is, in my opinion, not trustworthy. 2014-2015 has been a year where the California Department of Education superintendent was re elected, however, it has been a very bad year for parents in my opinion because: 1. SBAC test is flawed and does not work properly and … Read More

    From what I read as a parent, it seems that there are people making decisions who are lobbied to make the choices and the entire way the selection is done is, in my opinion, not trustworthy.

    2014-2015 has been a year where the California Department of Education superintendent was re elected, however, it has been a very bad year for parents in my opinion because:

    1. SBAC test is flawed and does not work properly and is an experiment for children, in my opinion.

    2. Common Core is confusing and teachers in my opinion have given up teaching or covering all mandated history and science standards and in some cases not opened the history or science books all year

    3. No oversight and a
    Laissez-faire approach by all admin. at all schools to just forget about accountability both last year 2013-2014 and also this year 2014-2015.

    4. The parents were not asked to join in speaking out due to a crumbling of value of any L.C.A.P (local control accountability plan) and the County Offices of Education were also not doing any meaningful help in that they too were just involved in following a flawed process, now to include rubrics which will be watered down so that the LCAP will involve say 5% or less of parent input. Why participate as a parent when the voice is muffled and the money decisions are done in private with little parent involvement.

    5. To make things worse many school districts saved monies by not buying common core textbooks and the copy machines have broke down, and the honor of our California Department of Education mandating that all textbooks must be state approved has been torn away.

    I have very little respect for the educational process and this article also points our perceived corruption and the notes should have not been destroyed.

  2. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    The March 14th “Answer Sheet” column in the WAPO notes that Pearson is monitoring (aka, spying on) students social media sites to see if Pearson feels any test security protocols that they have unilaterally implemented are being violated. They have reported students by name, it states in the column, for “violations” of test security to the student’s respective districts. Big Brother lives!

    And we thought the NSA was out of line.

  3. Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

    Pearson will sue if ETS hires teachers to do the scoring? Really? Is it any wonder why "invective" is directed to Pearson all over the place? This company is no angel as it is driven by the profit motive as evidenced by their dealings with LAUSD in connection to the iPads-for-all mess. They play hardball. It is not surprising there is pushback. That you see it as "attacks" give the impression that this criticism of Pearson is … Read More

    Pearson will sue if ETS hires teachers to do the scoring?

    Really?

    Is it any wonder why “invective” is directed to Pearson all over the place?

    This company is no angel as it is driven by the profit motive as evidenced by their dealings with LAUSD in connection to the iPads-for-all mess.

    They play hardball. It is not surprising there is pushback.

    That you see it as “attacks” give the impression that this criticism of Pearson is not appropriate. On the contrary, this is most necessary because who else is going to inform us of their domination in all aspects of the education business?

    Peason is, for example, the one who decides, through their tests, who is qualified to be a teacher. Pearson is the 800-lb gorilla in the assessment world and they have the power to define what should be in the curriculum. Isn’t it important to know this rather than take Pearson’s defenders and their managers at their word? Since when has a company been that trustworthy?

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      I'm sure Caroline was defending the criticism of Pearson and was only pointing out that the use of the word "invective" somehow paints those criticisms as less than reasonable. I imagine the things people say on Twitter about Pearson could be called invective so I didn't take issue with the wording per se. At the same time, if any company deserves invective it's Pearson. The idea of their suing strikes me as … Read More

      I’m sure Caroline was defending the criticism of Pearson and was only pointing out that the use of the word “invective” somehow paints those criticisms as less than reasonable. I imagine the things people say on Twitter about Pearson could be called invective so I didn’t take issue with the wording per se. At the same time, if any company deserves invective it’s Pearson. The idea of their suing strikes me as pathetic and totally unwarranted based upon the information in the article.

      I think Caroline’s criticism of the word is a little picky in this particular case. Then again I have made bias assertions that others thought picky.

      • CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

        "Criticism" or "dissent" sound neutral. "Invective" and "attack" are loaded words that inherently paint the commentary as abusive (as Merriam-Webster says) and imply that it's inappropriate or over the top. On a subject fraught with controversy, it's not unbiased journalism to use those words. Read More

        “Criticism” or “dissent” sound neutral. “Invective” and “attack” are loaded words that inherently paint the commentary as abusive (as Merriam-Webster says) and imply that it’s inappropriate or over the top. On a subject fraught with controversy, it’s not unbiased journalism to use those words.

        • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

          On the Ravitch thread Navigio made several good points about the test companies. He also said, “We have rabid psychopaths at the throats of legislators…” Who needs invective when you have reason? And culpability has nothing to do with the quality of good criticism.

  4. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    You can make criticism and dissent sound really, really bad and out of bounds by calling it “invective” and “attacks.”

    insulting, abusive, or highly critical language.
    “he let out a stream of invective”
    synonyms: abuse, insults, expletives, swear words, swearing, curses, foul language, foul language, vituperation

    But is that really unbiased reporting?

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      I consider it invective or an attack when you know the person is only reading through the material looking for something negative to say and is not reading the material with an open mind. I see this with Vergara. I acknowledge most teachers are effective and good, I don't claim all are bad, and if I see evidence to that I acknowledge it, but the other side basically combs through look for any … Read More

      I consider it invective or an attack when you know the person is only reading through the material looking for something negative to say and is not reading the material with an open mind. I see this with Vergara. I acknowledge most teachers are effective and good, I don’t claim all are bad, and if I see evidence to that I acknowledge it, but the other side basically combs through look for any obscure issue and will ignore teachers missing days when not sick to the maximum of the contract, or ineffective teachers getting a vigorous defense and staying on long-term, damaging kids. They act like it never happens, not once. Same with effort, they act like effort is a non-issue and no kids or parents are more diligent than others that everyone wants to study but poverty forces them to be so stressed they can only watch TV, even though some ethnic groups respond to the stress of poverty more constructively and show more diligence, as well as some individuals.

      I consider that invective. To be taken seriously, you have to take all facts into account whether they help or hurt your cause. I don’t see a lot of that here. I see a lot of invective and irrational obsession over small issues and ignoring of larger ones.

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