The US market for standardized student testing is BIG business. Connecting school funding to test scores through legislation has allowed large multinational corporations to cash in on a $2.5 billion industry. That figure may be an underestimate, as testing companies that design and grade tests also sell curriculum to “improve school performance” on the tests.

One of the biggest testing companies in the world is Pearson, a huge multinational corporation that, in spite of problems with testing worldwide, and a history of unethical behaviour, control a large share of the US testing market.

Advocates of standardized testing in Canada have long maintained that criticisms of US testing don’t apply to Canada. After all, educational testing in Canada isn’t done by “for profit” corporations, but by Ministries of Education or “arms length” agencies such as EQAO in Ontario. That argument seems less plausible, however, since Canadian students will soon be writing tests designed by Pearson.

Students in all ten Canadian provinces participate in the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA tests though an agreement with The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). PISA are the international tests that set off a “national crisis” in math education in Canada when the 2013 results were released.

Diane Ravitch’s recent blog reminded me that the 2015 PISA test will be designed by Pearson. That’s right, the multi-billion dollar international corporation that’s messed up testing all over the globe and broken US laws to get contracts, is responsible for the tests Canadian children will write, all with the approval and cooperation of Canadian educators.

How did we get here?

Canada was one of the original participants in PISA in 2000, under the encouragement and guidance of CMEC. The Director General of CMEC was Dr. Paul Cappon, an academic, who left the CMEC in 2004 under questionable circumstances to become the President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL). The CCL worked on many initiatives, including collaborating with provinces and territories on education until it was “shut down” in 2011.

While President and CEO of the CCL Dr. Cappon was a vocal advocate for a national strategy on education and for the use of standardized tests in education. Dr. Cappon is the lone Canadian representative on the seven member advisory panel for Pearson.

Also on The Pearson Advisory Panel with Dr. Cappon are two very prominent names from the world of the Global Education Reform Movement, Andreas Schleicher and Sir. Michael Barber.

  • Andreas Schleicher is a German statistician and researcher in the field of education. He is also the head of PISA!! That’s right, the head of PISA is on Pearson’s advisory board. Gee, I wonder how Pearson got the PISA contract?
  • Sir Michael Barber is the Chief Education Advisor to Pearson. He is a British educationist and also served as an education advisor to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is also listed as number 7 in “The Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform“.

Sir Michael Barber, CEA to Pearson, also has a strong Canadian connection, “education guru” Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan, special advisor to the Premier of Ontario on education, lists Sir Michael Barber as a partner on his website. Barber also wrote the foreword on Fullan’s 2014, Pearson published paper, “A Rich Seam“, and in 2010 Fullan and Barber co-chaired “Building Blocks for Education” an “education reform summit” that was hosted by then premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty.

All of this makes me very uncomfortable. To summarize:

  • The person directing CMEC, when we committed to PISA, and an influential figure in Canadian education policy is advising Pearson.
  • The head of PISA is also advising Pearson.
  • The Chief Education Advisor for Pearson is partners with the special advisor to the Premier of Ontario on Education.
  • Pearson is now designing tests for Canadian students.

We need greater transparency and more discussion around standardized testing in Canada. We need to know who is doing what, how they’re doing it and why. The participation of Canadian students in international tests and their influence on education policy is growing exponentially.

Do we want an education system where our decisions on curriculum are in response to test scores? Do we want our schools to be part of Pearson’s strategy to sell learning materials to our students?