Assessment

Testing Watchdog in Funding Squeeze

By Rhea R. Borja — March 06, 2006 1 min read
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Tongues wagged in the education world when FairTest, the Cambridge, Mass.-based watchdog of the testing industry, disclosed last month that it had only enough money to operate through 2006.

At its high-water mark in the 1990s, FairTest had an annual budget of $500,000 and a full-time staff of six. But funding from its two main donors, the Ford Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, has been “phased down or phased out,” said Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the nonprofit group, formally known as the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. As a result, it has cut its budget to $168,000 and laid off all but two people.

The news came to light when Michael Winerip of The New York Times wrote what some observers saw as a paean to FairTest in the newspaper’s Feb. 22 “On Education” column. The piece praised the 21-year-old organization as one of the few outspoken voices to question the influence of standardized testing and lamented the group’s possible demise.

Education bloggers were less charitable. Alexander Russo of This Week in Education called the group “marginalized and extreme.” Andrew J. Rotherham of Eduwonk sniped that Mr. Winerip was “source greasing.” And Mike Antonucci of Intercepts said it was “awfully sporting” of Mr. Winerip to “raise money for FairTest.”

Mr. Schaeffer said donors had given $4,000 via the FairTest Web site in the two days after the column ran, and others had pledged support. “We’re in the middle of a down cycle,” he said. “But rumors of our imminent demise are not accurate.”

FairTest is axing its quarterly print newsletter but will offer an electronic version eight times a year. The group is also shifting its fund-raising focus to individual donors through its mailing lists and online.

Stanley Rabinowitz, the director of assessment- and standards-development services for the San Francisco-based research group WestEd, said that while he doesn’t usually agree with FairTest, it provides “an important voice” in the testing debates.

“The stakes of tests have changed, … so perhaps their criticisms are more valid today than they were 10 years ago,” he said. “The more voices in the market, the better it is for consumers.”

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