By Kim Hilsenbeck
The STAAR test may soon be implemented, at least in part, by a new company. But the old one is still in the picture on a much smaller scale.
After using the same firm for all its standardized testing in Texas since the 1980s, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) said Monday it issued a formal Notice of Intent to Award two contracts for student assessments.
“The student assessment contract will be split between two vendors – Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Pearson,” TEA said in a statement. “The contract awards are contingent on final negotiations with each vendor.”
British giant Pearson has been the sole contractor for TEA’s student assessment up to this point, though parent groups across the state have complained for years about the assessment tests.
A 2013 state audit of Pearson’s most recent contract revealed gaps in state oversight, as well as lax terms including allowing the company to hire former state employees without restrictions or disclosure.
Could the move to drop Pearson from the majority of the contract, and its funding, signal the TEA is trying to distance itself from previous criticism?
An agency spokeswoman said she could not comment on why the agency or its commissioner, Michael Williams, decided to change how the contract was awarded.
TEA said it made the decision to award the contract in two parts based on a thorough review of the written proposals by internal and external evaluators.
Additionally, TEA said it based the award decision on, “… information provided during oral presentations, scoring of the pre- and post-oral presentation/product demonstration, documentation provided during ‘best and final offer’ negotiations, and an analysis of proposed costs compared to historical costs and available funds.”
Five vendors submitted qualified proposals in response to the September 2014 Request for Proposals: CTB/McGraw Hill, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), ETS, Measured Progress and Pearson.
In Monday’s release, TEA said it split the award because “ETS provided a stronger response for the first three components of the RFP (Program Integration, STAAR 3–8, and STAAR EOC).”
The New Jersey-based ETS is the firm that administers and scores the GRE for students who want to pursue a graduate degree.
The cost for ETS to provide services to TEA related to the three components over the four-year period is approximately $280 million.
Pearson will remain on as a contractor with TEA for the rest of the components.
“Pearson provided a stronger response for the last three components of the RFP (STAAR Alternate, TELPAS and TAKS),” according to the TEA statement.
The cost for Pearson to provide services related to these components over the four-year period is approximately $60 million.
Contract development is expected to take at least 30 days. The new contracts are expected to run from Sept. 1, 2015, through Aug. 31, 2019.
The project allowed proposers to bid on one or more of the following six components for the STARR assessment contract:
1. Program Integration
2. State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®) Item and Test Development, Administration, Scoring, and Reporting for Grades 3–8 Assessments
3. STAAR Item and Test Development, Administration, Scoring, and Reporting for End-of-Course (EOC) Assessments
4. STAAR Alternate* Item and Test Development, Administration, Scoring, and Reporting.
5. Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) Item and Test Development, Administration, Scoring, and Reporting. TELPAS includes reading, writing, listening, and speaking assessments for English Language Learners (ELLs).
6. Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) Administration, Scoring, and Reporting. High school students beyond ninth grade in the 2011–2012 school year must pass TAKS exit level tests in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies to be eligible to receive a diploma from a Texas public high school.
* STAAR Alternate is an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards that is designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who receive special education services and who also meet the specific participation requirements for this assessment.