"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Testing Frenzy and Feeding Frenzy: Who's Getting Fat?

The auctioning off of America's institutional integrity has reached new heights since the Rove, Norquist, and Kress crowd came to power in Washington, and the civic commitment to education offers just one example of how public treasure has been used to turn what was, until recently, a loose alliance of education businesses into the intricate web of the technocratic-educational complex (TEC). David Glovin and David Evans of Bloomberg News have just put the finishing touches on a fine piece of investigative journalism on corruption and incompetency within new multi-billion dollar TEC siphon, that is annually draining the souls of students and teachers as it drains away state and federal funds once committed to making our citizens educated. Here is a small clip of the story (pdf) that deserves wide circulation:
The U.S. is in a testing frenzy. Students in the 92,816 American public schools will take at least 45 million standardized reading and math exams this year. That will jump to 56 million in the 2007–08 school year, when states begin testing science as part of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, the most comprehensive education overhaul in half a century. Beyond No Child, tens of millions of additional tests assess college hopefuls, certify future stockbrokers and even evaluate preschoolers. With the stakes for making the grade so high for so many, errors by test companies have dramatic consequences. Joseph Conigliaro lost his Pennsylvania teaching job after Princeton, New Jersey–based Educational Testing Service, the world’s biggest standardized test company, incorrectly scored three of his licensing exams. ETS, which will pay $11.1 million to 4,100 teachers who were falsely failed, called the error an “anomaly.’’ Ryan Beck & Co. asked Linda Cutler to resign from a senior associate job at the securities firm after she and 1,881 other test takers were scored incorrectly last year on the Series 7 licensing exam for securities representatives. (See “How NASD Flunked a Pro,” page 134.)

“It’s an exponentially growing catastrophe,” says James Popham, an emeritus professor of education at University of California, Los Angeles, and author of 25 books on education. “No one knows how bad it is, and it’s going to get worse.

. . . The national obsession with performance and measurement means a booming business for test-producing and grading companies. In 2005, CTB/McGraw-Hill, Educational Testing Service, Harcourt Assessment, Pearson Assessments and smaller firms generated $2.8 billion in revenue from testing and test preparation, according to Boston-based research firm Eduventures LLC. No Child tests alone produced about $500 million in annual revenue in 2005–06.

Along with creating exams, Harcourt Assessment, Pearson Assessments and companies such as White Plains, New York-based Haights Cross Communications Inc. sell mass-produced workbooks, practice tests and computer software that teachers use year-round to prepare students for No Child and other tests. The burgeoning test preparation industry generated $1.7 billion in annual revenue last year. The $1.1 billion testing market and the $1.7 billion test preparation business will grow by a combined 30 percent by the 2009–10 school year, Eduventures predicts.

Profit margins in test preparation are as much as seven times higher than they are for No Child tests, partly because there are no requirements for high-quality questions on practice exams. States leave it to schools and school districts to decide whether the test preparation materials they’re buying are sound. Haights Cross, publisher of the Buckle Down test preparation workbooks, reported operating margins of 21 percent in its test preparation division for the first half of 2006. . .

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