Mississippi Testing Contract Yanked From Pearson After Scoring Errors

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Mississippi officials have canceled a contract with Pearson after it was revealed that the major testing contractor was responsible for scoring errors on a history exam that can be a factor in determining whether students have met high school graduation requirements.

The state’s board of education voted to rescind the contract of NCS Pearson, a division of the company, and award an emergency one-year contract to another organization, Minnesota-based Questar. The new testing vendor will give the 2017-18 U.S. history exam and a group of science assessments.

Mississippi officials said Pearson had been on a 10-year contract, the remainder of which will be terminated, according to a statement. Questar will be paid $2.2 million for its work during the coming academic year, state officials said.

Pearson has administered the tests in Mississippi since 2000. Its work has not been problem-free, according to state officials. The state also pointed to an incident in 2012, when the choices of answers on a state biology test were transposed, causing 126 students to receive failing scores. In 2015, state online tests administered by Pearson in science were interrupted for grades 5 and 8, Mississippi officials said.

“The decisions made today are in keeping with the board’s duty to act in the best interest of students,” said Rosemary Aultman, the state board’s chair. “Continued errors that directly impact students are unacceptable.”

The state said that 951 history assessments were affected by the scoring error, out of 27,000 tests administered this spring.

It was unclear how the reporting problems might have affected individual students’ eligibility to graduate. State officials on Monday said they’re still investigating the implications. High school students in Mississippi are required to take subject-area tests in U.S. history, algebra, biology and English, but they are not required to pass the tests to graduate. The state “offers multiple pathways [through] which a student can earn a diploma,” state officials explained in an e-mail.

A Pearson official told Marketplace K-12 that the error occurred when a previous version of the test-scoring procedure was mistakenly used for this year’s exam. The company says it discovered the error. The 951 test results were delivered in preliminary reports, and the company caught them before the final scores were reported, the Pearson official said.

“Pearson apologizes for the concern caused by this issue and is working with the Mississippi department of education to correct the scores and resolve this situation as soon as possible,” the company said in an e-mail statement. “We are disappointed by today’s board decision but stand ready to assist the state in any way possible.”

No students will have to retake the test, state officials said, but rather Pearson will be asked to used a correct table to score all the assessments.

Emergency contracts in Mississippi are limited to one year. State officials say they will put forward a request for proposal by Aug. 1 and look for multiyear bids for testing in history, biology 1 and 5th and 8th grade science, beginning during the 2018-19 school year.

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