E.D. To Respond to Attack on Test-Center Contract

By Marleen Nienhuis — September 17, 1986 3 min read

The U.S. Education Department has said it will respond this week to allegations of conflict of interest involving the distribution of information on testing through a publicly funded information clearinghouse operated by the Educational Testing Service under a department contract.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing and 36 researchers and academics who have asked the department to investigate insist, that the E.T.s. cannot disseminate unbiased information about standardized tests because it has a “tremendous financial interest” in them.

E.T.S. Subsidized ERIC

The E.T.S. operates the Educational Research Information Center on ‘Tests, Measurements, and Evaluations, one of 16 federal ERIC clearinghouses. It received its latest two-year, $530,000 grant to run the center from the Education Department this year.

The E.T..S. last year had revenue of 180 million from the sale of its standardized tests, according to Gregory I R. Anrig, president of the E.T.s.

Because the ERIC grant “was not nearly enough” to meet operating expenses, Mr. Anrig said his company paid about $70,000 last year to operate the federal clearinghouse.

John Weiss, executive director of the FairTest group, which monitors the educational-testing industry, said the subsidy might explain why the E.T.S. was the only bidder on the federal contract in the government’s last competition.

E.T.S. Charged With Bias

“If their deep pocket subsidizes the federal grant, it makes it hard for any other group to bid against them,” he noted. “Why don’t they lower student test fees instead?”

But Mr. Anrig said the E.T.S. subsidizes the center because it is a not-for-profit organization and, therefore, “has the obligation to do so.”

In calling for an investigation of the E.T.S.'S operation of the center, Mr. Weiss charged that the testing firm had omitted information critical of standardized testing from its data base and had made it difficult for anyone not specifically looking for such information to come across it while scanning general information about standardized testing.

“When you request information about tests from the E.T.S.-run clearinghouse, you get a one-page sheet that refers you first to E.T.S. publications, and then to ERIC, which is run by the E.T.S,” Mr. Weiss said.

Other test publishers are not mentioned at all, he added.

The group also charged that the E.T’s. would not give comprehensive information through the ERIC clearinghouse about the cultural bias in standardized tests, the value of coaching for standardized testing, or the rights consumers have under so-called truth-in-testing law

The latter entitle test-takers to receive questions, answers, and scores and, in some states like New York, to challenge them.

Charges Disputed

“E.T.S. perceives these matters as a threat to the validity and public acceptance of standardized testing,” I Mr. Weiss said. “They threaten the financial empire of E.T.S.”

financial empire of E.T.S .” The charges “are absolutely untrue,” Mr. Anrig said, adding that he “dislikes the automatic assumption of guilt just because we also publish a test.”

He pointed out that the testing firm has had the contract with the federal government for 15 years and has been reviewed regularly by the Education Department.

“No questions were ever raised,” he said. “You have to understand that the ERIC’ clearinghouses are always located in centers specializing in the particular subject of the clearinghouse. Is that a conflict of interest?” Mr. Angrig asked.

According to Mr. Weiss, none of the I other 15 ERIC clearinghouses sell the product about which they provide information to the public, even though all of them specialize in the information disseminated by the ERIC centers.

“Be~ a specialist in something and having a financial interest in something is talking about apples and oranges,” he said. “This clearinghouse should heron by an association that has no financial stake in it.”

Mr. Anrig said he welcomes an investigation.

“There is nothing we are doing with ERIC that is contrary to its guidelines,” he said. “We sell very few of the tests we have in the clearinghouse.

“The conflict of interest is a legal question,” he added. “There IS no ethical component to it.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 1986 edition of Education Week as E.D. To Respond to Attack on Test-Center Contract