British Officials, Pearson Probe Effort to Leak Test Content

Senior Editor

The battle to keep standardized test content from getting splashed across the Web isn’t confined to the shores of the United States. In Great Britain, government officials and their testing contractor, Pearson, are investigating how the answers for a spelling and grammar assessment ended up on a site where they didn’t belong.

Reports in the British press, citing sources in the government, have alternately described the leak as the work of a “rogue marker,” or “rebel marker”—basically a scorer—in the words of the Guardian and Daily Mail.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said publicly that there is no evidence the test content had been compromised in a way that would cause the government to halt testing.

He said once the government has completed its investigation, it could look at “contractual and other routes to seek redress” for the mishap, presumably from Pearson.

A spokesman for the Pearson told Marketplace K-12 that the test answers were incorrectly uploaded to a secure site used by test scorers, who are current or former teachers, about 24 hours before they were supposed to be.

The site is for scorers only, and does not allow public access. The portal allows a marker to score only the tests they are contracted to look at, Pearson said.

The company says it knows that about 100 of its markers accessed improperly posted test information. A Pearson spokesman said the vendor assumes someone then took the information and shared it with the British media—though as far as the company can tell, it was never posted publicly.

Pearson is a worldwide education provider with a major presence in the United States, not only in testing but in the delivery of myriad products and services across districts.

Security Under Scrutiny

“We apologize to schools, teachers, parents and pupils for this error at this sensitive time,” Pearson said in a statement. “We are conducting an investigation to make sure it cannot happen again. As part of this investigation we will seek to find out which individual passed this information into the public domain, in breach of their commitments to us and their fellow markers.”

The mishap has played out in the wake of public protests in the United Kingdom over testing, with parents voicing worries that students were being placed under too much pressure, and critics complaining that content of the exams is simply too tough.

Anti-testing sentiment has washed over many U.S. school districts, of course, in recent years, with parents and pundits arguing that a fixation on standardized exams is detracting from a more holistic educational experience.

Last year, Pearson came under criticism in the United States for monitoring social media to ensure that test-content was not being shared by students.

The policy angered parents, who described it as a Big-Brother-ish level of oversight. But Pearson said it was only monitoring public-facing pages, available to anyone browsing online. It also noted that it was contractually obligated by the states it works with to take those security steps.

The company also said at the time that the monitoring of social media is considered necessary and best-practice by organizations representing both state officials and test publishers.

In Britain, members of the opposition Labour party said the breach calls into question the government’s broader educational policies.

“The failure to ensure integrity in primary assessment lies at the door of education ministers who have meddled in the primary curriculum on personal whim,” Lucy Powell, Labour’s education spokeswoman told the Guardian, “causing chaos and confusion in the system with their constant chopping and changing.”


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