Pearson Solicits Input About Transition to Online Testing

By Catherine Gewertz — April 11, 2011 3 min read
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A top executive on the assessment side of the house at Pearson stopped by to chat with us the other day, and she issued an invitation to states, school districts, and organizations with expertise in testing issues: Share your thoughts about the best ways to transition to online testing.

Pearson has set up a wiki to receive input from the field on this, since states face an increasingly short timeline to figure this stuff out before common assessments are fully operational in 2014.

Refresher needed? Let’s see if I can make this quick: As part of the Race to the Top competition, two huge groups of states are working to design assessments for the new common standards. All but five states are doing this design work. A key feature of the tests envisioned by each consortium is online testing. So states that aren’t on the leading edge in online assessment have much to do. Even those that don’t participate in the Race to the Top assessment-consortia systems, however, have moved or are moving in the online-testing direction, so this is pertinent stuff for all states.

Right now, the Pearson wiki consists of a handful of key questions folks have to think about. But those questions are meant as a starting point. The company wants people to weigh in with ideas to expand the content, with the ultimate result intended as a definitive guide to moving testing online, Shilpi Niyogi, the executive vice president of Pearson’s assessment and information group, told us. Her unit supports national assessment design and/or administration work with the National Assessment Governing Board, ACT Inc., the College Board, and other organizations.

The landscape of questions states and district are grappling with is broad, Niyogi said during her visit to EdWeek last week. And because questions about testing necessarily blur with those about standards, curriculum, and instruction, the landscape is particularly dense and important. In the wiki, she sees a chance to engage with all these questions with an eye toward how online testing can be a helpful driver of states’ reform strategies.

“There are many questions, about what are the right standards and how to structure curriculum differently; how to use assessment to better capture student achievement and student growth, and to allow more types of ways for students to demonstrate knowledge,” she said.

“There are also questions about infrastructure; getting all the pieces in place to do curriculum, instruction, assessments, and how to build capacity in that infrastructure. As a building, district, or state leader, how do I think about the policy requirements, the training, the infrastructure? And what about testing that testing system?”

By creating the wiki, Niyogi said, Pearson hopes to form partnerships “across digital and state space” to collaborate on good thinking about the transition to online testing. Like other big publishing and testing companies, Pearson will likely be a bidder on the requests for proposals issued by the Race to the Top assessment consortia. But regardless of who bids or wins, she said, “we’re all going to benefit if we help states manage this transition.”

The wiki is one of part of the work Pearson has been doing on next-generation assessment. It also has ongoing research-and-development work into the tools that need to be built, and assembled a family of papers on next-gen testing topics. All of it, Niyogi said, helps move the company toward its vision of assessment driven by student learning, in which a student accesses content and assessment at his or her own pace.

Lots of folks are doing lots of thinking in the “next-gen assessment” space, including ETS, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Center for K-12 Assessment and Performance Management, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently teamed up with the philanthropy consulting outfit Arabella Advisors to commission a flock of white papers about critical issues in assessment as the two big consortia do their work.

A note about Pearson’s wiki: It’s really a quasi-wiki. Folks can submit stuff to add, change, or delete, but they can’t just do it themselves, as is possible on a real wiki. Pearson will consider all submissions and weigh what changes are made.

Photo: Shilpi Niyogi, head of national assessment services for Pearson, discusses next-generation assessment during a visit to EdWeek.
Charles Borst/Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.