Jan. 26, 2016
UUP FOIL appeal yields Pearson exam contract
UUP leaders were surprised—to say the least—when its Freedom of Information Law request for the State Education Department's teaching certification exam contract with Pearson, Inc. netted a document that was nearly 75 percent blacked out.
UUP quickly filed a FOIL appeal after receiving the heavily redacted reprint in late April 2015. Eight months later, the union finally received a copy of Pearson's teacher certification exam contract with much of its substantive content intact. Only parts of three pages of the 130-page document are blacked out; 25 pages were wholly blacked out previously.
"There was no reason for SED to black out huge sections of the contract," said UUP President Fred Kowal. "It was unacceptable, which is why we filed an appeal. This information is public and we are glad to share it with anyone who wants to view it."
"New York State’s flawed teacher certification process and Pearson’s flawed teacher certification exams have created a perfect storm to discourage people from pursuing a career in teaching in our state," said UUP Vice President for Academics Jamie Dangler. "We are reaching a crisis with teacher shortages across the state and negative impacts on diversity in the teaching work force. We hope the Regents and legislators will act soon to put the state’s teacher certification process back on track."
Pearson profits from students, not state
The Pearson contract reveals that the state did not pay Pearson to develop and administer the exams. Instead, all of Pearson’s payment and profits are made from student exam fees.
"This means Pearson has little incentive to fix flawed exams, since they profit when students take and retake them," said Dangler. "With four new teacher certification exams in New York State administered by Pearson, students can spend up to $1,000 or more to take and retake tests."
UUP, as part of its 2016 Legislative initiatives, is calling for a change to the state’s procurement law that would stop Pearson and other for-profit testing companies from making a profit off of student teachers by charging—and recharging—them fees to take mandatory exams.
The UUP plan would have the State Education Department pay companies to develop the tests. SED would collect testing fees from students.
Behind the black
Hidden behind the many blacked-out parts of the 130-page contract was the meat of the pact: details of how Pearson would develop, field test, administer and score SED’s new teacher certification exams—tests that UUP believes are deeply flawed. Many of those details were left unredacted in the latest copy of the contract sent to UUP.
UUP first filed a FOIL for the contract in early 2015. SED responded several months later; in an April 2015 SED email, UUP was told that the redacted information was “considered trade secret" and that "the release of such information could cause injury to the competitive nature of the entity.”
UUP filed a FOIL appeal to see the redacted material. SED missed its deadline for responding to the appeal, and UUP began to pursue the possibility of legal action. In December, SED provided UUP with a copy of the contract with much of the blacked-out sections restored.
UUP has spent the last three years battling SED to get the department to fix its flawed teacher certification exams. The union has consistently maintained that SED introduced the exams without adequate support and input from teacher educators.
In April 2015, UUP, with NYSUT and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, called for SED and the state Board of Regents to conduct a full investigation of Pearson’s new teacher certification exams. UUP reiterated the call last fall; it has provided illustrations of content and computer format flaws in the new exams, organized meetings with Regents, and convened a group of special education experts to meet with SED, Pearson, and the makers of the edTPA.
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