Pearson Agrees to Compensate Minnesota for Testing Breakdowns

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In a familiar coda to statewide testing breakdowns, Pearson has agreed to reimburse the state of Minnesota for costs associated with disruptions on assessments given earlier this year.

The state’s department of education says Pearson, a huge provider of education products and services, will pay the agency $1 million in fees and provide up to nearly $4.7 million in educational support.

Minnesota officials said that statewide assessments in the spring were riddled with a series of problems, most notably several days’ worth of technical disruptions that stemmed from server delays.

Those disruptions were partly attributable to “malicious, third-party” distributed denial-of-service attacks that were meant to overwhelm and thwart Pearson’s tests, state officials said in a statement Wednesday.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius called the testing foul-ups “simply unacceptable,” but said the state was pleased with the agreement.

“Pearson has been working with us in good faith to arrive at this significant settlement that provides us with assurances, and recognizes the magnitude of the impacts that the failures had on the state,” she said.

As part of the deal, Pearson agreed to several steps, including providing the state with access to a pair of company products at no cost for the duration of the testing contract. Those products are Pearson Perspective, an online tool that provides supplemental resources to teachers and students, in support of standards; and Write to Learn, an online literacy tool.

The state’s current contract, after recent adjustments, is valued at about $39 milllion, Josh Collins, a spokesman for the state department of education, said in an interview.

Pearson also said it will move statewide testing in Minnesota next year to a newer, cloud-based testing platform that the company says has stronger security. One of the platform’s features is the ability to withstand distributed denial-of-service interruptions, Minnesota officials said in their statement.

In addition, Pearson will cover some of the costs, and provide support for a test that is not connected with the company—the ACT. Minnesota has taken steps to increase high schoolers’ participation in the college-admissions test in recent years, but those plans have been complicated by budget restrictions. The new agreement with Pearson will help ensure that as many students as possible can take it, Collins said.

Doug Kubach, president of Pearson’s school division, said the company was “proud to continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Education” and happy with the “positive resolution to this issue.”

Numerous states have been frustrated by delays and mishaps in their attempts to administer online tests in recent years, fueling public and policymaker mistrust of testing.

Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education (which recently decided to get out of the state testing business) the American Institutes for Research, Measured Progress, and other vendors have taken the blame.

Those problems have touched some of the most populous states in the country, like Florida, where the American Institutes for Research took heat for problems earlier this year; and rural ones, like North Dakota, as we’ve reported.

This post has been updated with additional information from the Minnesota department of education.

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