The Four Corporations

It is safe to say that if you lived in the U.S., and went to a public school, you would most likely have taken a standardized test. I can also say without a doubt that because you are reading this for a college class, that you took the SAT or ACT, or both at least once. In either case you, your parents, or teachers were asked to dole out money to take theses tests. Not only that you were probably asked to also buy the accompanying practice book to help study for these tests. This is something that many people have to go through. paying money to corporations designed to make money off of tests that can determine your future. With that said many people don’t know anything about these corporations.

Currently there are four major corporations that dominate the standardized testing industry, three test publishers and one scoring firm. Chances are you have probably heard of them at some point but never paid them any mind. The four corporations are Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson. In 2001 the first three agencies accounted for 96% of the tests administered, while Pearson was the leading scoring agency of those tests. The business of standardized tests has become a very lucrative. In 1955 the estimated income from standardized testing was $7 million. By 1997 that number sky rocketed to $263 million. This is a 3ooo% increase. Today it is estimated that the industry is worth between $400 and $700 million.

This is a lot of money to be putting into an industry that has been heavily scrutinized for the effectiveness of its product. In fact a 2001 investigation by the New York Times documented the test flaws for all four agencies between 1997 and 1998. In all, states reported over two dozen incidences in which the test or the agency disrupted the states testing systems or incorrectly scored a students test. For a complete breakdown of the study conducted by the New York Times you can go to None of the Above: The Test Industry’s Failures.

This data is not only troubling, but it is having negative life altering effects for many children. Recently the state of Florida past a law regarding standardized tests. The law states that in order for a child to move on from third to fourth grade they must preform well on a standardized reading exam. So, instead of sending a kid to the next grade level with their merit earned through homework or overall class grades. A student is now forced to preform well on one test. Depending on how they do it could effect so many aspects of their lives. If one fails this test they are subjected to repeating the third grade with a whole new class. Supporters of the law say that it ensures that kids move on to the next grade with the skills to succeed in life, like reading. However; many students some honors students have opted not to take the test. Their parents have even opened a lawsuit against the state to remove the requirement to pass the test.

To me, there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing corporations to make a profit off the education system. I personally dealt with taking standardized tests and from my perspective they did not help at all. I think as a nation we need to make it illegal to profit off of these tests especially if we are requiring them to move on to the next grade academically.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/schools/testing/companies.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/19/34-problems-with-standardized-tests/?utm_term=.f31f385dbda4

 

8 thoughts on “The Four Corporations”

  1. I agree with what you said in your post, it is definitely very troubling that corporations make so much money off of standardized tests that students are basically required to take if they want to go to college. It’s even more frustrating coupled with the fact that said colleges and universities charge so much for tuition. It’s very unfortunate that something so vital to having a steady career and income in the future costs so much. Because of the high costs, it can definitely leave those with less money at a disadvantage for their future.

    In your post, you mentioned the four main corporations, but an organization you didn’t mention was College Board, which is in charge of administering the tests. The College Board is technically a not-for profit, but according to this CNN blog (http://am.blogs.cnn.com/2009/12/29/educating-america-the-big-business-of-the-sat/), the executives are still making quite a lot of money. The president is listed as having a salary of around $900,000 in salary and benefits, and 12 other execs make over $300,000. It doesn’t seem right that College Board can be called a nonprofit when its generating so much revenue. According to the College Board, 30-50 million dollars’ worth of services are given to students. However, if the tests weren’t so expensive in the first place, that much money wouldn’t have to be given away.

    This is a little off topic, but when I took my SAT the first time, I got an email around a week later stating that there had been an error with some of the questions on the test. It wasn’t supposed to negatively impact my score, but I remember being very frustrated. The SAT cost $45 and took nearly 4 hours of my time, so I was kind of upset that they hadn’t noticed the problem before I took the exam.

  2. Good job on this blog. I feel that a huge issue with testing for college, like the ACTs and the SATs, is how expensive they are. Same with AP exams held by the College Board (some schools require students to pay, some don’t). When we talk about what keeps low-income families down in a cycle, and the systematic barriers that prevent kids from improving their quality of life, I feel like expensive standardized tests are a great example. Where I am from, standardized testing is extremely competitive. To get into the best schools you need high scores. To get the most scholarship money, you need even higher scores. In order to get those high scores, you need to take an SAT prep class. You have to buy the prep books. The test itself is $70-80, which can seem do-able, but it adds up when you are expected to take the test 3-4 times to get the highest score you possibly can. It frustrated me to have to pay so much, and to have to pay to even send my scores to college. At first I justified it, because the College Board has to manage a lot of tests and scores and they are a very large corporation with hundreds of moving parts, so I understood why there were so many fees. But then I found out how many people get huge salaries from working for College Board, and I got angry. I don’t know what the answers are. But I agree with you that there is a problem.

    If you have a minute to read an article, I thought this was really interesting. It’s about an SAT tutor who got paid a ridiculous amount, and he himself recognizes how many issues there are with the concept of a “bad tester.” https://www.vox.com/2016/1/8/10728958/sat-tutor-expensive

  3. I think the state of standardized testing in this country is definitely overarching and somewhat ridiculous, much like yourself. The only thing that standardized tests teach is how to take a test. That’s it. You have a limited amount of time to find which options don’t make sense and think critically about which one does. Not once in my college career have I been trying to solve a problem for a class and thought, “I know how to solve this; this was on the SAT!”In addition, I’m almost positive that when I’m out of school and have to take financial responsibilities into my own hands, I am never going to say, “I know how to balance a checkbook, the SAT taught me how!” The material is just not real life applicable besides critical thinking skills that can be pursued in other ways (maybe through teaching kids course material).
    Further, to practically force hundreds of thousands of students to participate in and pay for something as overrated as a standardized test is disgusting and downright wrong.
    I don’t think anyone could say that the state of our standardized testing is not a problem and a scam (except the executives, of course, whose precious, hefty salaries we are funding with our wasted money).

    There has got to be a better way to decide who goes to college and who moves up grade levels.

  4. While I acknowledge the many flaws associated with standardized testing, I have recently heard about a number of arguments in support of it, despite some drawbacks. I remember reading about a study that was done showing (not surprisingly) that standardized test scores did not have a strong correlation with overall intelligence. Basically, the smarter people do not always do better on the SAT, and vice versa. The interesting part of this research was that, contrary to the other findings, standardized test scores were a good predictor of college success. This means, most likely, that while the SAT doesn’t make you smarter or mean that you are already smart, but rather that you are willing to work hard to do what you need to do. If you need to do well on the SAT and you manage to do so, colleges have reason to believe that you will work just as hard to do well in their school. I find this to be a bit problematic all things considered, but it is not an invalid method for the colleges. I wonder if it is worth keeping a system that doesn’t work perfectly if it is efficient for those who use it. Regarding the amount of money that the companies make, I’m not surprised. They have millions of students taking their exams, and hundreds of schools paying for them to be used. At least, the money allows the company to be incentivized to produce better and better testing methods, but the gross incomes regardless seem unnecessarily high.

  5. Whenever I was studying for the SAT and AP exams I totally felt the frustration of the bureaucracy of corporations. I remember some of my peers talking about how you had to buy multiple books because some were better than others. I estimate is spent between $100-$200 among all of my AP prep books and SAT prep books. That number is ridiculous.

    But one part of the standardized testing controversy which you should pay attention to is the inequities in test prep. Sure, I bought test prep books and saw a tutor but that was because my parents could afford it and it gave me a competitive edge on my exams. I think the bigger societal issue is the students who can’t afford a fancy SAT tutor or can’t even afford to buy prep books. Those students are left behind.

    The Atlantic published an article about the Philadelphia School Systems inability to purchase the correct textbooks for their students (from the big corporations) and how that will limit their ability to score well on standardized tests. A research found that the average school in Philadelphia has 27 percent of the books required for its academic curriculum. Many books were out of date and 10 schools had no books at all. Another issue the researcher found was the school system had no way of cataloging/organizing the books they had or where they were located. In 2014, the Philadelphia School System allotted $0 per student for textbooks—there is not enough money in the budget to purchase workbooks or the up to date version. If students are not receiving the books to learn the required material how can we expect them to score well on standardized tests?

    So, I partially agree that corporations are a major problem in the test book industry but I think the greater problem is the poorer school districts who cannot afford to purchase textbook and the students who suffer as a result.

    Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-cant-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/

  6. I think this is a great blog post, and a very interesting topic of conversation. I know standardized tests are a major factor that colleges and universities look at to admit you to their school, but many people also find them very flawed. In fact, the majority of students that I have spoken to in college strongly disliked the fact that we had to take these standardized tests in high school. Now, I took AP classes in high school, and they were specifically geared toward teaching a test, not actual material that was worth knowing. I actually did not take the SAT, but I took the ACT in high school, to be able to submit to colleges. I got all of the big prep books and even hired a tutor to help me achieve a higher score on the test; this was great, but something to think about is the fact that a lot of families in the U.S. can afford this. These things are very . expensive, and make you wonder whether or not they are actually worth it.

    And while I was never the biggest fan of standardized tests, and still to this day dislike them, there has to be some common ground to look at. When going through the admissions process, I can see why schools want to look at standardized tests, because you need a baseline that everyone can be judged on. And like someone mentioned in an earlier comment, being the smartest kid is not necessarily and advantage on these standardized tests. The tests are built to fit the intellectual ability of many different ranges of people, so that everyone has a fair shot at doing well. So, I can also understand the viewpoint in favor of them.

    All in all, I am a bit indifferent as to how I feel about standardized tests, because there truly are a lo tof factors involved.

  7. I know that living in the Tri-State Area, there is a lot encouragement and preparation done by parents to enlist their children into Private Schools. There are several private schools scattered within the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Private schools educate their students at a more accelerated, intense, and strict pace than the average public school. Private Schools tuition tend to be several thousand dollars for not only education, but also and elite/exclusive lifestyle, and great alumni connections to Ivy League Colleges. The families who can afford for their kids to attend private schools find it worth it. Then there are middle classed families like mine where this process was influenced heavily by not just my immediate family, but my extended family as well. Education is foremost important in my family no matter the cost.
    My parents enrolled me in both summer and saturday educational programs for about 5 years (also can be a financial burden) to condition me to learn the same materials and at the same pace as students who had a head start in an advanced education system (such as private schools) due to the socioeconomic status. Within the programs I attended (in NY), they mostly prepared me for the ISEE exam – “The ISEE is a standard assessment of skills for each applicant, ranking his or her reasoning and achievement skills among students in the same grade. It enables students to take a single, fair, and reliable test for entrance into top-performing independent schools [private schools].” From the prep programs, the Test itself, could place a financial hardship on the family.
    I took the ISEE and had sufficiently met the requirements of several Independent Schools. I applied to schools mainly in New york with the exception of very little in Jersey. Interview after interview and application after application, I was either not accepted or placed on the school’s waiting list. Part of this was due to my common lack of knowledge in math. Math has never been my specialty. Another part of this was due to my parent’s income. It was subpar in comparison to my wealth off extended family. Their kids would have a better shot at being accepted than I would, even with perfect grades. Same thing applies to college admissions as well.

    https://www.erblearn.org/services/isee-overview
    http://money.cnn.com/2012/05/09/pf/private-school-financial-aid/index.htm
    https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/recommend/schools/financialaid
    College: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/08/universities-inequality-fighters/538566/

  8. I know that living in the Tri-State Area, there is a lot encouragement and preparation done by parents to enlist their children into Private Schools. There are several private schools scattered within the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Private schools educate their students at a more accelerated, intense, and strict pace than the average public school. Private Schools tuition tend to be several thousand dollars for not only education, but also and elite/exclusive lifestyle, and great alumni connections to Ivy League Colleges. The families who can afford for their kids to attend private schools find it worth it. Then there are middle class families like mine where this process was influenced heavily by not just my immediate family, but my extended family as well. Education is foremost important in my family no matter the cost.
    My parents enrolled me in both summer and saturday educational programs for about 5 years (also can be a financial burden) to condition me to learn the same materials and at the same pace as students who had a head start in an advanced education system (such as private schools) due to the socioeconomic status. Within the programs I attended (in NY), they mostly prepared me for the ISEE exam – “The ISEE is a standard assessment of skills for each applicant, ranking his or her reasoning and achievement skills among students in the same grade. It enables students to take a single, fair, and reliable test for entrance into top-performing independent schools [private schools].” From the prep programs, the Test itself, could place a financial hardship on the family.
    I took the ISEE and had sufficiently met the requirements of several Independent Schools. I applied to schools mainly in New york with the exception of very little in Jersey. Interview after interview and application after application, I was either not accepted or placed on the school’s waiting list. Part of this was due to my common lack of knowledge in math. Math has never been my specialty. Another part of this was due to my parent’s income. It was subpar in comparison to my wealth off extended family. Their kids would have a better shot at being accepted than I would, even with perfect grades. Same thing applies to college admissions as well.

    https://www.erblearn.org/services/isee-overview
    http://money.cnn.com/2012/05/09/pf/private-school-financial-aid/index.htm
    https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/recommend/schools/financialaid
    College: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/08/universities-inequality-fighters/538566/

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