A STAARtling Realization

Springtime in Texas: the pollen descends upon us, and so does the STAAR. Debate over this standardized testing tends to focus on the impact on students and teachers. Another party with a vested interest merits mention, however – a party who, unlike students and teachers, actually benefits from this assessment.

A company called Pearson creates and administers the STAAR and other standardized state tests under a $500 million contract with the Texas Education Agency. As the self-proclaimed “market leader in educational publishing and services,” they also conveniently sell the test prep materials and tutoring programs for the exams – some of which are required to graduate from high school. If that doesn’t happen, guess who also owns the GED exam?

Over the last 15 years, this British conglomerate has set their sights on the burgeoning American education industry and acquired a laundry list of testing and publishing companies to aid in that pursuit. The education market to capture grew all the more lucrative in no small part due to government mandated accountability testing. By numerous accounts, Pearson, of course, helped lobby successfully in support of these measures. They continue to invest in legislative lobbying to protect their interests.

But Pearson’s sphere of influence expands beyond publishing and standardized testing. They now control teacher certification in seven states. Last year they acquired BioBehavioral Diagnostics and their Quotient ADHD test. The move, which they announced as a “strategic entry into healthcare markets,” should come as no surprise. The new book “The ADHD Explosion” presents significant research correlating a dramatic rise in ADHD diagnosis with – wait for it – increased state testing.

The propensity of corporations to profit where the opportunity exists, even from educational products or services, is not inherently pernicious. That’s supply and demand. But a company paid with our tax dollars for the exclusive supply of a demand they aided in orchestrating – and are continuing to perpetuate – should raise red flags.

Bolstering the testing behemoth, though, are a legion of lawmakers, administrators and even some parents who have been drinking the accountability Kool-Aid. They support this seemingly endless educational data collection and one-size-fits-all approach believing it offers proof of instructional success. Regardless of their intentions to ensure educational parity, the reality has been that more assessments just equal more anxiety, for both students and teachers.

Parents, teachers, and administrators would like to believe that their children are subjected to the rigors of these high-stakes tests for some tangible benefit to the greater good. But the $500 million elephant in the room is getting harder to ignore.

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