Shares of the Testing Market

Written by: Adrienne Hu

Primary Source: Green & Write

Testing is costly. Test development as well as test administration will cost states and the federal government millions and even billions of dollar over years (ref. here). The two big common core test consortia – Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Consortium– were awarded over $360 million federal race to the top funding back in 2011. Almost all of this federal funding has been used by the two consortia to provide contracts to companies to engage in various tasks, including developing testing items, designing testing platform, and staffing.

The testing market is much larger than this. SBAC is only giving tests in English Language Arts and math to 18 states, while PARCC is providing tests to 10 states and the District of Columbia. There are 22 more states that need to invest in test design and development (ref. here). Moreover, while PARCC provides some oversight of its test administration, SBAC left the administration of the test up to each state, which again creates a large flow of money from the states to various vendors that win contracts to help administrate the tests. This post will provide some data on the shares of the testing market in terms of administration of the test by state and by consortium.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Vendors

Photo Courtesy of Marsemett Talahassee

Photo Courtesy of Marsemett Talahassee

The American Institute of Research (AIR), a Washington-based non-profit organization, is by far the most successful vendor with the Smarter Balanced Assessment. It holds the administration contract with Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, totaling 11 states. Besides these contracts with the states, AIR also received a contract from the consortium to develop a test delivery system.

The Measured Progress, a New-England-based company, has the second most contracts within the consortium. It holds contracts with the state of Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota.

The Educational Testing Services (ETS), a New Jersey-based non-profit organization, holds two contracts now with a recent win over the Pearson in the state of California. ETS also holds a test administration contract with Wisconsin.

CTB/McGraw Hill Education, despite its role as the biggest prime contractor of the consortium that collected about $72 million to design and develop the test, it only scored a sole contract on test administration with the state of Missouri.

Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), a Minnesota-based company that is working with AIR on test delivery system, won the bid to help Michigan’s test development and test administration for the next three years. Another bid winner is Measurement Inc, which is based in North Carolina.

PARCC Vendors, or The Vendor?

Pearson, a London-based, international for-profit publishing and education company, is the titan in the PARCC consortium. The consortium was contracted with Pearson on various testing services, from test design and development to administration. The member states can choose to hire Pearson on test administration through an individual price agreement, and most of them did.

In May 2014, the state of New Mexico released a Request for Proposal (RFP) to seek out a contractor on behalf of other member states, and Pearson was the sole bidder and eventually got the contract. AIR then filed a lawsuit (please see here and here) against Pearson, making an effort to limit the length of Pearson’s testing contract and “correct” the unfair RFP process that they argued biased Pearson (for information of this lawsuit,

Now Pearson is not the monopoly player within the PARCC consortium. Louisiana contracted with DRC to help its test administration; Ohio has both AIR and DRC to oversee different aspects of testing; and Mississippi released a new RFP in March, 2015, and is seeking new bidders to potentially replace its one-year contract with Pearson.

Other States and Their Testing Delivery

Outside the two testing consortia, big vendors like Pearson and AIR are still the powerhouses in the market. For example, Arizona and Florida contracted with AIR to help them provide the test to students, while Pearson is the contractor of several states, such as Minnesota, to deliver their own assessments.

Common Core, But No Common Vendor

Even though Common Core State Standards and their aligned assessments are trying to unify the curriculum and the assessment across the states, there is no common vendor in the testing market. The market has been divided up by big vendors as well as smaller ones, but the big names like Pearson, ETS, and AIR definitely have the control of the market and its direction, especially with their involvement in all stages of testing services from design to implementation.

However, there is concern that even a testing titan like Pearson is limited in its capacity to handle all these testing services to such a large group of students all at once. The outburst of technical issues on the implementation of the computer-adaptive assessment in the recent testing season has proven this point well. In New Jersey, Pearson even had to subtract ETS to handle part of the test services. Subcontracting and/or collaboration between two companies as in the case of Michigan seem to be inevitable in the testing market, since different vendors might be particularly specializing in certain aspects of the testing services. Ideally, if everyone focuses on what they are good at, the relocation of resources can be maximized.

Having said that, the testing market is largely a business as well. Pearson and CTB/McGraw Hill and some other companies are for-profit agents and their goals are to make money, along with their goals of making education better. This raises another concern from many people: should for-profits companies play such important roles in public education? Should we provide more opportunities to non-profit organizations? For now, both sides are coexisting and sharing the huge market because neither of them can handle the whole market alone. But we shall see what will happen as common core tests opt-out movements seem to gather some power.


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Adrienne Hu
Sihua (Adrienne) is a doctoral candidate in the Program in Mathematics Education (PRIME). She is currently on the research team of the Algebra Teaching Study and the Study of Social Network and Ambitious Math Instruction. Her research interests include pre-service teachers’ statistical knowledge for teaching, classroom observation instruments, and the teaching and learning of contextualized algebraic tasks.
Adrienne Hu

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