Tag Archives: DRC

(Re)Name the new “PASS” Test contest!

test.jpg

PASS: “Palmetto Assessment of State Standards” or “Pleased About Slipping Standards?” Submit your own test title and win!

Education bureaucrats and partisan journalists are worried about the shameful PACT cheating scandal that continues to enrage parents across the South Carolina.

To distract attention from the cheating at schools and the awkwardly low-standards some have tried to steer the political dialogue toward the replacement test that will succeed PACT as the public school accountability tool.

Their “focus on the future” strategy is really the same old tired spin that ever-more-money will fix South Carolina’s failing public schools. At its heart, this is nothing more than a distraction from the push for real educational options and equality for all children.

Toward that end, the public servants PR staff at the State Department of Education recently held a contest to choose the name of PACT’s replacement, a test with even lower standards than its high dollar predecessor.

The “winner” was “PASS” which stands for “Palmetto Assessment of State Standards,” a sadly ironic name because the law authorizing the test actually lowers the already-low standards, reducing student performance categories from four to three.

In the spirit of competition (something public schools don’t face) the Voice for School Choice is announcing its own reverse acronym contest for the new PASS test. Continue reading

Bob Walker: Special Interest Superhero



Like a seasoned NASCAR veteran, Bob Walker of Spartanburg knows that a checkered flag and a first place finish on Sunday isn’t the key to real success. In order to really win -both personally and professionally- you need to be a master of product placement.

In NASCAR this takes the form of drinking milk or Pepsi on camera during an interview, and covering every inch of your car with brand logos. The more a driver wins races, and gets the product on television, the more the sponsor is willing to pay him for the advertising he provides.

With Walker, corporate sponsorship is for more than free air time, it is pay-to-play politics. Big companies, most based far outside his Spartanburg district, channel thousands of dollars to Walker in the form of direct hard money contributions toward his reelection. On the chamber floor, he “places” their products by drafting, introducing, and carrying legislation that rewards them with huge contracts, subsidies, and preferential regulations.

A dramatic example of this is his close connection with Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), a Minnesota-based testing company that has made millions of the dollars selling and reselling South Carolina the PACT test. Walker took DRC money both directly (a hard money donation) and through a leadership PAC (a soft money donation) and then introduced a bill that would have virtually assured DRC an enormous contract to replace PACT.

Walker’s most recent contributors list reads like an appendix to the major bills he has sponsored:

Medical and Pharmaceutical (H.4628); Sumter Medical Supplies $1,000; Takeda Pharmaceuticals $1,000; Beam Pharmacy $1,000; Blue Cross/Blue Shield $1,000; Timmonsville Drug Inc $500

Automobile and Insurance (H. 4622); State Farm AAP $1,000; Friends of the Farm Bureau PAC $1,000; Property and Casualty Insurance $500; Braddy Insurance $100

Telecommunications (H.4428); AT&T SC PAC $750; Verizon Communications SC PAC $250

So, does Bob Walker represent the people, or corporate interests? You decide.

PACT Debacle: Rex Goes Kicking and Screaming

Lawmakers in the SC Senate have approved second reading of a bill that will force State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex to finally replace the controversial PACT test. This despite heavy political maneuvering by Rex to avoid the change.

An SCRG press release posted on the SC Hotline explains:

Lawmakers and educators have long agreed that PACT ought to be replaced, but Superintendent Jim Rex (D), who campaigned on a promise to reform assessment in 2006, has been unwilling to make the change. Instead, Rex is working with Bob Walker (R) of Spartanburg to push through a controversial bill, dramatically weakening South Carolina’s precedent setting accountability laws.

Thankfully, members of the South Carolina Senate have called Rex’s bluff. Thursday, Senators reached an agreement on an amended version of the House Bill, which includes specific language eliminating the PACT in July of 2008.

Eliminating the PACT this year frees the state to move forward on a new accountability system,” explained Senator Greg Ryberg, Republican from Aiken. Unlike the House version, the Senate is not looking for the Legislature to micromanage the testing process.

Confusingly, Rex has taken credit for the change, despite the fact that he refused to make the switch himself, and is being forced to do so now.

The real point of contention is how a new test would be developed. Rex was also pushing for a dramatic change to the Education Accountability Act (EAA – the law governing testing) so that while replacing the PACT he could also accomplish some personal goals:

1. weaken state standards to hide failures
2. reward political donors with a specific contract in the legislation
3. ensure little or no new testing data is available during his 2010 political campaign

By changing performance category names, limiting information on school report cards, and rewarding growth rather than absolute performance, Rex’s House bill will accomplish the first goal. The House bill also has specific language dictating the details of the new test, which Rex wants to be created by long-time donor DRC. The Senate version would require Rex to work with the State Board of Education and Education Oversight Committee to devise new specifications, which would hamper DRC’s prospects. Finally, Rex knows that a slow implementation of a new test means no data (or at least no continuity in data) for him to worry about during his 2010 campaign for governor state superintendent.

So, rather than replace PACT his first day in office, Rex has been showboating. This latest round of posturing once again demonstrates how Rex and others in the public education establishment are willing to perpetuate failed policies for personal gain.

Pay-to-Play Politics of the PACT Test

Legalized bribery: Testing company DRC’s pay-to-play politics means thousands of dollars in donations for incumbent politicians and hundreds of millions in state contracts for DRC.

Bob Walker, Chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, is on the defensive. Working with Jim Rex, Walker thought he might use the debate over the PACT test as a opportunity to chip away at the state’s accountability system. By further lowering standards, Walker and Rex could better mask the failures in the K-12 education system they preside over. Fortunately, members of the Senate have caught on to the plan, and called for Rex to replace the PACT on his own.

Jim Rex promised he would replace the PACT. He could have done this his first day in office. But he didn’t. Months later, Rex is joining Walker in trying to blame the General Assembly.

Senators Ryberg and Bryant are publicly calling Rex’s bluff. Both have a expressed a desire to ensure PACT is replaced, and agree that changes to the EAA are a separate manner.

Rex is shackled by his ties to DRC, the company who has made millions by writing, administering, and grading the PACT. DRC has given thousands of dollars to Rex, and thousands more to the school administrators (SCASA) and the education association (SCEA) who have laundered the money to Rex through their political action committees (PACs).

So instead of changing the PACT, Rex is showboating, and trying to force lawmakers to weaken standards by stripping the Education Accountability Act (EAA). Rex knows that lowered standards and a sweet request for proposal for his DRC donors means more money for his 2010 reelection bid.

Rex is working hand-in-hand with Bob Walker, also a recipient of DRC’s tainted money. Walker enjoys both direct DRC donations, as well as additional “soft” money that has been laundered through the controversial Palmetto Leadership Council PAC. Walker is also close with SCASA, SCEA, and SCSBA, who shower him with gifts and support.

The Rex/Walker anti-accountability team is driven by Warren Tompkins, a divisive political consultant who has received neatly $400,000 to lobby for DRC in the halls of the capital building.

Walker and Rex have corrupted the process by accepting donations from DRC. A lawmaker who writes education policy and a superintendent who implements it should rise above this type of pay-to-play politics. The money, both directly and through PACs, is tainted and threatens to further steer our worst-in-the-nation schools off course.

Rex and Walker need to return the DRC money immediately and Rex needs to use his administrative powers as Superintendent to replace PACT without altering the EAA. If South Carolina used an existing standardized test, augmented to our curriculum, and designed to provide diagnostic data, our government schools might begin their long crawl up from 50th place.

PACT Debate Misses the Mark on Money, Standards

Lawmakers are debating how, and when to replace the controversial PACT test. Rather than merely changing the test, Jim Rex is using the transition as a bait-and-switch attempt to also re-tool and weaken state accountability laws. While the current bill is less damaging than the initial proposal, the transition alone will cost taxpayers more than $24 million over the next three years.

One aspect to this story that has been lost on the main stream media is that under Rex, the Department of Education tried to outmaneuver the Legislature, the State Board, and the Education Oversight Committee  last year by issuing contract bids for both tests and test items without approval.

If South Carolina is serious about K-12 assessment, lawmakers need to look to the successfully model of private schools across the state. These schools employ commercially developed, off-the-shelf standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford 10 test. Such tests cost a fraction of the PACT and allow for speedy, specific, and diagnostic results for each child. They are also being used by public schools in other states to meet NCLB requirements.

But that makes too much sense. More likely, politically connected companies like Data Recognition Corp (who administers the PACT and was hired to suggest plans for its replacement) will continue to rake in hundreds of millions in long term state contracts.

Assessment is a great tool for accountability. It can help keep parents and teachers informed of student and school progress. But assessment can also hide problems. Everyone knows that South Carolina is the nation’s shame with a high school graduation rate below fifty percent. But through the use of poorly-crafted tests and selective testing state officials are able to claim that over 71 percent of students passed a high school “exit exam” last year.

Contact your lawmaker. Let them know that teachers and parents need accurate data. Explain to them how states, like private schools, can buy standardized tests that assess student performance against absolute benchmarks, not muddled South Carolina specific “standards.”