“FOX GUARDING THE HENHOUSE” ON STATE TESTING REFORM
By Andrew Citizen
Columbia, S.C. – February 22, 2007 – The same company that currently reaps millions of dollars to grade South Carolina’s controversial Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) has now been awarded a contract to oversee reforms to the test. Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation, which is represented in South Carolina by political heavyweight Warren Tompkins’ lobbying firm, Tompkins Kinard & Associates, won a $54 million contract in 2003 to grade the PACT.
Now, that same company has been awarded an $825,000 contract to recommend PACT reforms, an arrangement some consider a conflict of interest.
“Now that’s the fox guarding the henhouse,” said former State Board of Education member Terrye Seckinger.
“I would be more interested in hearing a fresh perspective on PACT than hearing from someone who has been providing PACT services for years,” said State Rep. Phillip Shoopman, a former member of the State Board of Education. “I have yet to meet a teacher who is thrilled with PACT, so going back to that well doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Yes, they do have both of the contracts,” said Dr. JoAnne Anderson, Executive Director of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee. “I understand there are some concerns but I have to respect the procurement process.”
Tompkins’ firm declined to comment.
PACT has come under intense criticism in the education community because it is not a “diagnostic” test, meaning it fails to provide teachers and parents with real-time results of children’s academic performance. It also fails to identify specific areas where children may need additional individual instruction.
As Spartanburg School District 3 Superintendent Dr. Jim Ray was recently quoted as saying, “PACT is useless as an instructional tool.”
PACT also fails to meet federal No Child Left Behind reporting standards and does not allow administrators to accurately compare our children’s academic progress with the progress of children in other states. Additionally, PACT is among the nation’s most expensive assessment tests, with its lengthy and error-prone grading process forcing South Carolina to spend as much as three or four times the per pupil testing amount spent by other states.
According to February 2007 report by the South Carolina Policy Council, “PACT has served as a cloak behind which major failures are hidden” because it “offers a distorted view of educational progress.” The report also states that PACT “has not provided the context for (state-to-state) comparison, nor can it prescribe the details needed to construct a plan for instructional reform.”
Newly-elected State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex has garnered positive newspaper headlines by saying that the option of eliminating PACT will remain “on the table.”
Those comments have provoked skepticism from the Education Oversight Committee.
“I think he’s trying to waffle,” Dr. Anderson said. “If you read his transition team report it doesn’t say ‘don’t (use) PACT.’ But then if the newspaper asks him he says that nothing is off the table. I think he’s just working real hard to try and include everybody right now.”