Education giant Pearson lays off 208 Texas employees, mostly... | www.statesman.com

Long the largest provider of testing services in Texas, education giant Pearson confirmed Thursday that it will lay off more than 200 Texas employees after the state chose another vendor for the majority of its new standardized testing contract.

On Thursday, 270 employees in the School and North America teams at Pearson were notified their positions were being eliminated. The bulk of the 208 Texas layoffs are in Austin as the company consolidates its four Austin locations into one.

In May, the Texas Education Agency announced Pearson Education would no longer be the exclusive standardized testing vendor, a position the British mega-company had held for more than three decades. The state agency awarded a four-year $280 million contract to New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services to develop, administer and score its standardized tests. Pearson, the state’s sole testing contractor since 1980, was awarded a $60 million contract for testing services for students who are learning English or have severe cognitive disabilities, among other things.

“The loss of that contract means that we need to scale back some of our workforce,” said Laura Howe, Pearson spokeswoman, by email. “While we have a long, proud history of serving students, parents, and educators in Texas, this is never an easy decision.”

The loss of the contract will allow the company to accelerate its transition to digital delivery because it won’t have as many resources tied up in supporting traditional printed tests in Texas, Howe said.

Debra Amon, a senior project manager who helped develop the manuals teachers use to administer the state tests, has been with the company 8 years, and was notified Thursday her last date of employment will be Sept. 14.

“I’m sad,” Amon said. “It’s been a good company to work for. The pay is good. We’re innovative.”

Pearson will continue to have a presence in Texas and will remain home to much of the company’s research and development operations, and employees who include education researchers, scientists and former teachers. The education company has about 20,000 employees in the U.S. and 40,000 worldwide.

On Friday, the State Board of Education will vote on seeking other options to the GED, or General Education Development, exam, which is administered by Pearson.

On Wednesday, the board instructed the Texas Education Agency’s staff to develop a Request for Proposal that would allow for multiple testing vendors for the Texas Certificate of High School Equivalency. The move comes as the number of Texans signing up to take the GED has plummeted since Pearson rolled out its new computer-based only GED exam in 2014.

Critics complained to the state board this week that the test costs twice as much as alternative high school equivalency exams that are offered in other states, but not in Texas, and that the test is unnecessarily difficult, focusing more on college readiness than workforce preparedness. After encountering similar issues, multiple other states already have dropped the revised GED in favor of alternative high school equivalency exams.

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