A game of PACT Scam?

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.

Legislators agreed.

“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.”

A year or so ago, I took my GRE exam - a two-hour exam which was my last obstacle to be an official graduate student (I had gotten in on a waiver since the program was new). It took me two hours and I got my scores on the spot (I even passed it, believe it or not). Many other similar tests are administered and scored via computer.

If it's done for those seeking professional certifications and entry into graduate programs, then I have two questions:
  • Why does the PACT test have to be done the way it is?
  • Who stands to benefit/profit from the way it is presently being done?
The answers to these questions will likely tell us a lot about why they won't modernize the state's assessment tests.

About five years ago, when a friend of mine who was then on the State Board of Education was one of those who tried to stop local school districts from continuing to creep their start dates back to early August. Why the need for a change? They need more time to teach the PACT test ... to get the desired scores ... to rig the system.

Anyone who has been through college will remember those required general ed classes, where the professor was an adjunct or new on faculty who got stuck with the class. They had to be there, and so did we. To let each other off the hook, we agreed to show up for class, they'd "teach the test", we'd pass it and go on to real classes.

Well, that's the PACT test

Maybe it's no big deal that we graduate kids who show up my office unable to fill out a job application or pass a drug test, but when the PACT test has become such an obsession that it's now considered a higher priority than football season or condom distribution ... you know it's a real problem.

I'll bet THAT last sentence got your attention! I'm not sure about footballs and condoms, but if Mr. Rex would like to see the job application skills of high school graduates, I'd be more than happy to let him see what they turn in.

... I'll have more discussion about how we assess our state's student population next week, so please stay tuned.

13 Response to "A game of PACT Scam?"

  1. Anonymous 23/2/07 11:14
    Outrageous! While these tests have some value, the assessment movement is essentially looking for a "magic bullet" that can tell you supposedly everything you need to know without any context. At least two dozen postsecondary institutions are dropping the SAT, and they include Duke and Berkeley with the list sure to grow. If my predicted college performance based on my SAT scores came true, I would have been marginal in college, barely scraping by at best. Yet I thrived and went on to graduate school. I'm wary about a process that on the one hand hopes for more economic development in some of our underdeveloped counties, yet will deem formally the school system a big "Failure" just like a C rating on a restaurant. That's no way to operate, nor is firing a principal who's a good leader and administrator just because the scores were not high. Is it any wonder why our best and brightest don't want to go into teaching with the constraints we put on them? The article is well titled: PACT-scam. Many have been predicting that the system of testing would collapse under its own weight, and now that is what appears to be happening, only we are "solving it" by getting the driver of the car to reinvent another wheel, or tune up something that wont go far anyway. Let's rethink testing and the importance we put on it.
  2. Paul Adams 23/2/07 20:47
    I believe that all of these "acheievement" tests place a false sense of academic security or insecurity depending upon the student. Further, I think that teachers in this state for the most part are unqualified to teach. I believe that for teachers in this state and every state to be qualified to teach they should be actually be required to have two things: (1) a degree in the subject they wish to teach in and (2)having actually read and written a paper on Pat Conroy's "the water is wide" what I consider to be a treatise on what it means to be a teacher in AMERICA! no matter what your politics are.
  3. Anonymous 23/2/07 22:40
    qualifications? in south carolina? you smoking crack again?
  4. Anonymous 23/2/07 23:41
    wow, guys. not a lot of postings, but ya'll are doing some deep thinking and detailed yakking.
  5. Anonymous 24/2/07 21:12
    how come all the nuts, both right and left, aren't howling at each other - and at you - over this posting?
  6. Anonymous 24/2/07 21:37
    paul adams, go crawl back under the rock from whence you came, and please don't come back.
  7. Brian McCarty 25/2/07 03:09
    I did well on standardized tests my entire academic life. But, I still hate them. Life is not defined by filling in a bubble with a No. 2 pencil! Futher, states creating their own tests to measure their own success in teaching students is beside the point.

    Let's face it, too many teachers and adminstrators now "teach to the test" instead of preparing students for college, tech school, or life.

    It is nonsense that we all pay for.

    I was part of the group that pushed EIA. I regret that now. Our attempt to hold teachers and schools accountable has become a farce.

    I think we should look at broader factors, like how many kids from high school get into a college or get gainful employment. We ought to bring businesses in and ask them what they need from the workforce and work with them to produce that in the classroom.
  8. Earl Capps 25/2/07 14:32
    The EIA wasn't a bad idea in the beginning. It's just that some people found what they could use to their advantage, and what they could disregard.

    Same system, same results. Until we find someone with the cojones to really shake things up, we'll just get more of the same.

    ... and those who know how to work the system will get more money off of us, while we get nothing to show for it.
  9. Moye 25/2/07 20:03
    Privatize the system until then most of our schools are going to be below par at best.
  10. paul adams 26/2/07 08:04
    hey anonymous:

    I'll tell you what. If you have the courage to actually post your REAL name on your comment. I will think about it. I think I was nice about my comment and tried to add something to Earl's discussion. Why don't you check out my blog. I took time off from the blog's for a reason.
  11. Anonymous 26/2/07 08:55
    Good post, Brian. And whoever referred to these posts as "yak" is part of the problem.

    To follow up on Brian's suggestion that we seek to get more into college, are you aware that of those over 25 in SC, only 24 percent have a four-year degree while the national average is in the low 40's. Sure, that rate nearly doubles when you account for those with two-year college degrees and certificates.

    Education is often referred to as a panacea for all of society's ills -- health, crime, welfare, etc. It is an imperfect panacea. But we must reach more to pursue avenues towards higher education and cease the emphasis on legalistic knit-picking that is punative to some and makes teachers more follow-the-directions-or-you-are-toast-and- you-may-be-toast-anyway mindset that makes our best and brightest seek other fields.
  12. mg 26/2/07 17:15
    To anon. 08:55 no way 40 % of everyone in this country has a college degree and 80 % if you count two year degrees. No Way.
  13. Anonymous 27/2/07 15:34
    well, next week is here ... where's your promised posting #2?

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