Move Comes After Current Provider Acknowledged Test-Scoring Errors
by Leslie Brody
The New York City Department of Education is seeking a new vendor for gifted-and-talented exams after its current provider, Pearson PLC, acknowledged major errors in grading the high-stakes tests more than a year ago.
The department planned to ask the city’s Panel for Educational Policy to approve a $2 million annual contract with Minnesota-based Questar Assessment Inc. at its public meeting on Wednesday night, but officials said they pulled the proposal from the agenda to allow more time to inform panel members.
Department officials said they sought proposals from vendors because Pearson’s three-year contract was expiring at the end of this school year, and recommended Questar Assessment after considering price, effectiveness, capacity and other factors.
If approved, the switch in companies would follow a turbulent period for testing into the coveted, highly competitive gifted programs in kindergarten through third grade. Former schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott criticized Pearson in May 2013 for failing to provide basic quality-assurance checks after a series of four scoring problems that year affected thousands of students, incorrectly telling them they weren’t eligible for the programs.
In one of the incidents, Pearson miscalculated students’ ages by assuming all students took the test on the same date; the scores are sensitive to precise ages because children develop so quickly. Pearson officials apologized at the time and said there was “no excuse” for the errors, some of which came to the company’s attention because of parents’ complaints.
Spokesmen for Questar Assessment and Pearson declined to comment Wednesday.
The city’s three-year contract with Pearson costs $5.5 million. Education department officials said that if a new vendor is approved, the contract would cover exams given in the 2015-16 year for placement into programs in the fall of 2016. This year’s exam will be the same as last year’s.
Every year, there aren’t enough seats in the citywide gifted programs even for students who score in the 99th percentile. The top-scoring students enter a lottery to get in. New York also has local gifted programs in most of its geographic districts that are open to students who live in the area and score well on the tests.
Joli Golden, a co-founder of Parents Alliance for Citywide Education, a group advocating for more gifted programs, said she hoped any new vendor would be meticulous in testing methods and scoring accuracy. She said she hoped the city would also devote enough resources to publicizing the admissions process, because “in high-poverty and immigrant areas there are some populations that are completely unaware of this test.”
The deadline is Nov. 7 to sign up for the winter tests for next fall’s gifted programs in kindergarten through third grade.