Test provider sells software, books, training
By Meisha McDaniel
A local legal expert says there could be a conflict of interest involving the company that writes the End-of-Instruction exam and provides EOI test preparation to Daniel Webster Broadcasting and Digital Media Magnet High School.
Pearson Education writes the EOI test for all Oklahoma schools. Pearson also owns America’s Choice, a company that was brought into Webster to help with EOI test preparation and school improvement.
Tulsa County District Judge Carlos Chappelle said the relationship between Pearson and America’s Choice could pose a conflict of interest.
“It may be a conflict, because the company will know what’s expected on the test,” Chappelle said.
An administrator for Tulsa Public Schools disagrees.
“The contract with America’s Choice began in 2009. We really don’t see this as a conflict of interest, because we were dealing with America’s Choice before Pearson bought them,” said Verna Ruffin, superintendent for curriculum and instruction, special education and student services.
The larger question is whether Pearson has a financial interest in a school failing the EOI test.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must make academic progress, said Webster Principal Jim Rector.
Progress is measured by several indicators, including graduation rates, test participation, dropouts and EOI test scores.
According to a recent Tulsa World article, by 2014, the percentage of Oklahoma schools failing to meet a crucial goal under No Child Left Behind is expected to go from 25 percent to 95 percent.
Schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress (AYP) are placed on the “needs improvement” list. To get off the list, schools must make AYP for two consecutive years, said Kevin Burr, associate superintendent for secondary schools.
“I don’t really see this as a conflict of interest,” Burr said. “We contracted with America’s Choice to help teachers better teach the concepts of staff development and to provide curriculum support and professional development that will help students that were falling behind.”
Burr did not confirm whether America’s Choice consultants are hired to implement tutoring and test preparation after a school collectively fails to make AYP.
According to the company’s Web site, http://www.americaschoice.org, America’s Choice provides services that “help schools focus on teaching, learning and results.”
A TPS official who did not want to be identified said the district has spent in the neighborhood of $2.7 million to $3 million on its 2009 contract with America’s Choice.
According to http://www.opensecrets.org, Pearson spent nearly $1.1 million on lobbyists at the state and federal levels in 2011.
The company had 12 paid lobbyists working with state governments in 2010.
One of the lobbyists was stationed in Oklahoma, according to http://www.followthemoney.org. Others were stationed in Georgia, Illinois, Michigan and New York.
Pearson representatives did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.
Rector said America’s Choice provides “test preparation and testing materials with state standards. America’s Choice focuses more on math and literacy, intervention and instructional preparation.”
On its Web site, http://www.pearsoned.com, Pearson calls itself “the world’s leading learning company.”
In addition to writing the EOI test and providing services through America’s Choice, Pearson supplies textbooks, test-prep workbooks and the database used by Tulsa Public Schools to record grades and other student information.
“It is my hope that Webster High School in the very near future will no longer need remedial services like those provided by America’s Choice,” Rector said.
TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard did not reply to e-mail messages seeking comment.