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Eschewing Pearson, state goes back to McGraw-Hill for GED

Nearly a year after Pearson, the testing company, took a public beating for mistakes on the exams it produced for New York State, state education officials are piling on.

Today, the State Education Department announced that the state will forgo a new high school equivalency exam made by Pearson in favor of its own exam, which the publishing company McGraw-Hill will produce.

The state announced that it would consider other vendors to create an equivalency test after Pearson partnered with the non-profit group that had previously produced the GED, which people who have not graduated from high school can take to show they are prepared for college, work, or the military. Cost was a major concern: Pearson’s test will cost $120 to start, twice what the current exam costs.

“While the GED was run by a not-for-profit, the system worked fairly well. But a Pearson GED monopoly would put our students at the mercy of Pearson’s pricing,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement today. “We can’t let price deny anyone the opportunity for success. That’s why, rather than pay Pearson twice the current cost or limit the number of students who can take the exam, the Regents approved a competitive process to develop a new assessment.”

The exam that McGraw-Hill produces will cost test-takers $54, state officials said today, although the state will have to shell out an undetermined amount to create the exam.

McGraw-Hill produced New York State’s annual exams before the state hired Pearson in 2011. Critics said McGraw-Hill’s exams were too predictable, contributing to widespread score inflation, and the state let the company’s contract expire.

Tisch’s criticism echoes comments she made last week about the city’s decision to recommend a Pearson curriculum as schools buy materials that are aligned to new learning standards known as the Common Core.

“I want everyone to know who’s listening here or across New York State, that if you simply cannot afford to buy curriculum from Pearson, there is content and curriculum available free to every person in this state,” Tisch said at a forum about the standards.

The state’s Common Core-aligned curriculums are being produced by nonprofit organizations, but they will not be complete by the start of the new school year. Using them will also require schools to buy some materials.

The heavy dose of criticism comes weeks before New York schoolchildren are set to take a new round of Pearson-produced math and reading tests. The company, which is in the middle of a multi-year contract with New York State to produce its annual exams, drew fire last year over its use of a nonsensical, heavily adapted reading passage that had previously appeared on other states’ tests. The state also identified errors on the Pearson-produced math tests.

At the time, Tisch called the errors “inexcusable” and publicly said she had grown concerned about Pearson’s ability to fulfill its contract with the state. Behind-the-scenes, state officials demanded that Pearson explain the “Pineapple and the Hare” passage.

New York is part of a multistate consortium, PARCC, that is developing shared Common Core-aligned exams. The state has not said for sure whether it will adopt PARCC’s exams, which are supposed to become available in the last years of Pearson’s contract with the state.

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