Indiana steps into testing privacy mess

Regarding Indiana’s selection of British-owned testing giant Pearson to develop and run the ISTEP+ exam: The timing wasn’t the best, was it?

Last week the Indiana Department of Administration chose Pearson as the contractor for ISTEP+ math and English tests. The two-year contract is worth $38.1 million.

Two days later, a New Jersey blogger reported that Pearson was monitoring social media use by students taking tests it created for the PARCC consortium of states.

A test-security contractor said a girl in New Jersey had posted confidential test information on Twitter. Pearson apparently tracked down who she was and told the state education department, which informed local school officials.

The local superintendent vented about the overreach in what she thought was a private email. But it found its way to the inbox of blogger Bob Braun, who broke the story of Pearson snooping on students.

Pearson insisted the monitoring was necessary for test validity, but a lot of people weren’t buying it.

“Although education officials in some states already screen social media on their own for possible test leaks,” The New York Times reported, “Pearson’s efforts have ignited a firestorm among some teacher and parent groups who contend the monitoring is invasive and unfair.”

The American Federation of Teachers, under the headline “Big Brother really is watching,” posted a demand that Pearson “stop spying on our kids.”

Indiana has had lots of problems with its previous ISTEP+ contractor, CTB McGraw-Hill, including recurring glitches with online test delivery. But Pearson is the biggest and most controversial testing company, the one that testing critics love to hate. Now Hoosiers will get our turn.

Dumped or not?

Headlines about the selection of Pearson said Indiana was dumping CTB McGraw-Hill.

That’s true as far as ISTEP+ is concerned. But for being dumped, the company could still walk away with a good consolation prize. It was selected for several big contracts to provide formative tests, which measure student progress toward learning standards.

It’s not clear how many of those will be awarded. The price tag for all the testing contracts chosen by the Department of Administration is $133.8 million, and no one wants to spend that much.

Chalkbeat Indiana reports that Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz is proposing a pared-down testing package that would cost $75 million over two years. Under her plan, CTB McGraw-Hill would presumably provide the English and math formative tests at a cost of $24.2 million.

Ritz wants to drop IREAD-3, a third-grade reading test. That seems unlikely to fly with the State Board of Education, which will have its own ideas about what tests to give.


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