State Auditors Find $460 Million Contract With Testing Company Needs More Oversight

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Earlier this year, state lawmakers decided to reduce the number of standardized exams in schools. They did that partly because of a backlash against high stakes testing from parents and teachers. Now state auditors say the contract for all those tests needs more oversight.

A state audit report found the Texas Education Agency does not have adequate processes in place to monitor its massive testing contract with Pearson.

The five-year contract is worth more than $460 million dollars and runs until August 2015. The contract represents 61 percent of the total dollars amount of all TEA contracts.

Under the contract, Pearson develops state standardized tests, scores them and then reports the results back to the state.

DeEtta Culbertson with the TEA says the auditors have some good recommendations, like more detail in the invoices from Pearson and establishing a more formal process for determining what areas of the contract reduce cost.

The auditors also found 11 employees at Pearson who used to work for the state on student testing. But because the Pearson contract had been changed, that wasn’t disclosed, like other state vendors do.

Culbertson says the agency will fix the problems.

“Those recommendations plus others that are in the report, the agency will be putting into place immediately or as quickly as we can.”

She says they are looking to hire someone to oversee the contract and make sure it follows all state laws.

“Anything that can help us make sure that the public understands what is going on here at the agency and how we are utilizing and spending that public money is a good thing.”

Susan Aspey with Pearson notes in an email the auditors didn’t find any issues with Pearson meeting the terms of the contract.

She released this statement:

"Pearson's employees — hundreds with children in Texas schools — work to support the Texas Education Agency in developing a comprehensive assessment program.  This program helps teachers, parents, lawmakers and the public know how students are learning the state's education standards and progressing from grade-to-grade on their path to college and career readiness, and we welcome any opportunity for improvement."

But some say the audit report doesn’t go far enough.

Bob Schaeffer is with FairTest. The group advocates against high stakes testing.

He says the report seems to indicate the state wasn’t really in charge of all contract details, like timetables.

“When you hire a vendor, you’re the boss, assuring that the taxpayers’ money is being used effectively, but it looks like in this case Pearson was the boss.”

The Pearson contract came up during the recent legislative session.

Senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat, added a requirement to a bill for the Texas Education Agency to develop a way to audit and monitor its massive testing contract.

That bill was vetoed by Governor Perry for other reasons.

Read the entire report from the State Auditor’s Office here.

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...