Superintendent Jim Rex refuses to replace the state’s controversial PACT test on his own, instead he is maneuvering for a change in the law to lower standards and ensure a fat contract for his political donors at DRC.
South Carolina’s Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) is an expensive and time consuming system of standardized assessments. The tests are required by South Carolina’s Education Accountability Act (EAA) and the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). PACT was designed to measure student achievement relative to a standards-based performance benchmark.
Teachers hate these tests because they are so time-consuming. Parents are upset that no detailed child-specific data is released. Taxpayer groups complain that the state is spending hundreds of millions on a test that does not allow for comparisons to students in other states.
The PACT is a horrible test. It is produced by by Data Recognition Company (DRC), a politically connected company that has paid more than $390,000 to controversial consultants Tompkins, Kinard & Associates who lobby for them. DRC has also donated thousands in hard money to Democratic Jim Rex‘s campaign for Superintendent of Education and liberal Republican House members like Bob Walker, as well as soft money to Bobby Harrell‘s Palmetto Leadership Political Action Committee (PAC).
Analysis by the non-profit North Western Evaluation Association (NEWA) shows that PACT is among the weakest public school accountability tools in the United States. The High School Assessment Program (HSAP) portion of the PACT system was rated among the lowest NWEA ever studied. Dr. Dennis Nielson, a senior scholar at the Strom Thurmond Institute, reviewed PACT in 2007 and found that it so weak and ineffective that he concluded the State Education Department and EOC may be breaking state and federal accountability laws by continuing to use PACT.
So Jim Rex, who campaigned on a promise to replace PACT, is going to find a new test, right?
Rex could work with the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and the State Board of Education (SBE) to find a new test. He could choose a commercially-developed test, augment it to South Carolina’s standards, and even tighten up the benchmarks if he wanted to. He could save taxpayer millions of dollars and give parents. teachers, and students the data they need. But he doesn’t want to.
Rather than changing out the test himself, Jim Rex is clamoring for lawmakers in the State Senate to pass Rep. Bob Walker’s H.4662, a bill Rex knows will ensure PACT II works to hide poor performance just as well as PACT I has. A proposed revision to the Education Accountability Act, H. 4662 also promises to net DRC hundreds of millions in additional contracts by narrowly defining the specifications for the new assessment tool.
If passed, H4662 would strip the EAA and micromanage the new testing requirements, virtually guaranteeing DRC another enormous contract. Bob Walker’s H. 4662 would:
- weaken tests by replacing essay questions with multiple choice
- eliminate entire subject areas and reduce the number of children tested
- provide parents less information on test report cards
- introduce “growth” as a measure to replace objective and absolute benchmarks
- reduce the number of performance ratings from 4 to 3, so more students will automatically “meet the standard”
Thankfully, some Senators are standing up against the barrage of DRC lobbying, direct hard money donations, and soft money of PAC donations. Senator Kevin Bryant has publicly called on Rex to change the test himself, and Senator Greg Ryberg has voiced concern about the micromanagement of assessment by the General Assembly.
Rex, working with taxpayer-financed lobbyists at the SC School Boards Association and SC Association of School Administrators is already on PR-overdrive to shirk his responsibility and deliver the goods to DRC. Status quo incumbents like Walker are also eager and willing to help the DRC/Tompkins machine to ensure the checks keep coming as they fight off challengers committed to real education accountability and reform.
The facts are clear: South Carolina spends $11,480 per child on its 700,000 public school students but ranks last in national performance. That’s because only 44 cents per allocated dollar reaches the classroom. The other 54 cents helps to fuel the DRC/Tompkins/Rex/Walker machine of political incumbency and patronage.
Our state needs to focus on educating children, not lining the pockets of DRC shareholders and insulating self-serving incumbents from reform-minded challengers. Rex should adopt an off-the-shelf, commercially-designed standardized test, like the Stanford 10 used in private schools across the state. Only when parents have the freedom to choose the best of all schools -and money follows the child- can South Carolina hope to emerge from this pit of failure and corruption.