New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia appears in Albany...

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia appears in Albany on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Credit: AP

Rarely does a change of state vendors become such big news.

But when it was revealed last week that the Pearson Education firm would be dropped as developer of tests for New York students in grades 3-8, a summertime buzz began over the Common Core curriculum.

For starters, the selection of Minnesota-based Questar Assessments over Pearson for a five-year, $44 million state contract marks a first change under new Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Elia said in a pointedly diplomatic statement, "New York State teachers will be involved in every step of the test development process." Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch described the goal as to "continue to improve" the testing and "provide the instructional support parents and teachers need."

Critics of the nation's current emphasis on high-stakes testing regard the international Pearson company as the top corporate player in a growing education-industrial complex.

Hofstra University Professor Alan Singer has for years traced Pearson's path as "one of the most aggressive companies seeking to profit from what they and others euphemistically call educational reform." He said replacing Pearson with the lesser-known Questar leaves open the wider issues involving these exams, raised in the recent "opt-out" movement.

Pearson spokeswoman Laura Howe was quoted as saying Thursday, "While we are disappointed that we were not awarded the grade 3-8 testing contract, our commitment to New York is unwavering."

Tensions arose with the company over its handling of test questions and data. Also, in 2013, Democratic state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman reached a $7.7 million settlement with Pearson's charitable affiliate over his allegations that it developed course materials the company intended to sell commercially.

The politics of it go beyond contracting.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who was Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's 2014 Republican challenger, promptly directed another in a continuing series of barbs at the governor over the state's Common Core implementation.

"Switching companies to administer Common Core testing is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," Astorino said. "Our children are still being faced with an untested experiment whose standards, some renowned education experts say, are of 'poor quality.' "