New State Tests Are One Piece of An Improving Education System

Girls choosing colored pencils

The best things that have happened in my life are because of my family and education. A single mom made schooling a top priority for my siblings and me, and I am a proud product of the Bronx Public Schools in New York City. Education has always been “access to opportunity” for me and has helped shape me as a husband, dad, neighbor, employee, and citizen.

My wife and I want our three boys to get great educations that prepare them to earn good-paying jobs and to find fulfillment in life. Just about every parent knows that so much of future success depends on access to the best education possible. In a recent NBC News “State of Parenting” Poll, sponsored by my employer, Pearson, 86 percent of parents said that children today need more than a high school degree to achieve the American Dream.

Recognizing the need to better prepare students for success beyond high school, states have adopted new, more demanding academic learning standards (e.g., the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills; the Common Core State Standards). These standards will provide students with a solid foundation in reading and math. They’ll also improve on prior standards by helping build the skills employers say graduates need to compete in today’s global economy. That includes the ability to think critically, understand complex texts, analyze math problems, and collaborate with their peers. As an employer, I know these skills are what I look for, in addition to solid comprehension and numeracy.

With new standards, states needed better tests to capture how well students acquire these meaningful skills and provide better feedback. Student test results are one of several indicators, along with classroom grades, teacher and parental observation and feedback that make a well-rounded report card on how well a student is achieving throughout their schooling. Test results provide a vital snapshot of student performance and growth, and this is where Pearson plays a key role.

Pearson invests in the research and design of fair, rigorous tests that help teachers, parents, students, colleges and employers see how well students are progressing in their learning, and where there are areas for improvement. New annual state tests based on higher standards have introduced a potential game-changer: performance tasks that enable us to see how well students can apply what they have learned in the classroom to solve real-world problems.

This spring, there’s rightly been a great deal of media and public scrutiny as we and other testing companies have rolled out new tests. Pearson holds itself to a very high standard for excellence – when our services do not work properly, we should be held accountable. When technical glitches briefly interrupted online testing for some students in Colorado and Minnesota, we acted quickly to identify the causes and implement a fix to allow testing sessions to continue. While glitches are rightly high profile, they are the exception. We apologize for the inconvenience this caused and are taking steps to make sure students and teachers get a much better service from now on.

There were also some lurid rumors about “spying” following reports of a New Jersey student’s tweet about a test question that the student had taken, but others in New Jersey and elsewhere had yet to take. Here’s the truth: while it is only one question, the student’s actions were unfair to other students and jeopardized the integrity of the test. We have an obligation to the public and to the state to ensure that live test information does not leak. Pearson uses a monitoring service that looks for keywords directly related to the test. When we discovered the leaked information, we immediately contacted the New Jersey Department of Education so they could take the actions necessary to protect the interests of other students who were yet to take that question.

We understand that parents and teachers are very concerned about their child’s privacy. I share that concern as a parent. But I can say without question Pearson does not monitor individual students and only views information accessible through public social media channels. We believe in test fairness and feel strongly that all students should have the same level playing field so they can truly demonstrate what they have learned.

As a company, Pearson wants to do a better job of showing that we’re listening to students, teachers and parents’ concerns. We hear loudly that some parents think the tests are too long and may cause anxiety for some students. We hear that some teachers wish they had students’ test results in real time, so they could adjust their classroom instruction that same week. We’re looking at the research, design and delivery of cutting-edge assessment systems that provide better, quicker feedback.

Tests are a means to an end – showing what individual young people have learned and how schools are preparing them for their next step in college or their careers. New annual state tests, supported by Pearson and other testing companies, will help students and teachers in those crucial life choices. Strong accountability and assessment systems are pivotal to ensuring equity for all students. We share a common goal with the teachers, parents and students we serve – to ensure that every single child graduates from school ready for success in life on her or his own terms.


The article was originally published May 7, 2015, on the Washington Post website

AlfredBinfordHeadshot (1)About Alfred Binford, M.B.A.

Managing Director, Assessment & Direct Delivery, Pearson

Joining Pearson in late 2014 as Managing Director of Assessment & Direct Delivery in North America, Alfred now leads Pearson’s sales and business development activities for State and National Services, Clinical Assessment, and Connections Learning. He is focused on further developing Pearson’s comprehensive portfolio of assessments that help administrators, teachers, students, and parents improve education outcomes.

Alfred has over 25 years of experience in the technology and telecommunications industries and has led large teams across the U.S. and around the world. Most recently, Alfred served as CEO of Mycom North America. Before Mycom, he held senior leadership positions with Vodafone, Amdocs, and Unisys, where his work included driving business development and delivering on large K-20 contracts such as The California State University system, Chicago Public Schools, and Detroit Public Schools.