Pearsons awarded MSA contract

May 25, 2006, midnight | By Adam Yalowitz | 18 years ago

Company responsible for previous scoring mistakes

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has commissioned Pearsons Educational Measurement, the company responsible for incorrectly grading several thousand SATs last fall, to develop and score the new Maryland School Assessment (MSA) science exam.

The MSAs, designed to measure a student's progress in reading and math, are administered to students in grades three through eight. Students' scores are used to determine whether a school meets the annual requirements defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the MSDE.

The new science MSA will be implemented next year. Pearsons will develop both an online and written version of the test, and Maryland will pay Pearsons $25 million over the next five years.

In the October 2005 SAT, 4,411 out of approximately 495,000 students who took the test nationwide received incorrect score reports from the College Board, according to written testimony given by College Board President Gaston Caperton before the New York State Senate Higher Education Committee on May 2. "During the week of March 6, the College Board re-reported scores for 4,018 students (approximately 0.81 percent of October 2005 SAT test-takers) who received higher scores as a result of the re-scanning process," said Caperton, who explained that eventually, 4,411 students would have their SATs rescored.

The announcement on March 6 that Pearsons had incorrectly scored several thousand scantrons triggered a wave of media attention focused on the reliability of the College Board and Pearsons Educational Measurement. The inaccurate SAT score reports were caused by extra humidity that was unaccounted for and made some score sheets warp and swell, according to Caperton.

Now, Pearsons is developing science MSAs for Maryland, said Janice Johnson, chief of information management in the MSDE's division of accountability and assessment. "Pearsons does work for us on science assessments and online testing, and we will have a science assessment online in 2008," she said.

The MSDE is confident that Pearsons will accurately grade Maryland's online science MSAs, according to Johnson. "We are concerned, but we do not believe we will have any problems with Pearsons. We have had very good-quality work from Pearsons on the alternative MSAs," she said. The alternative MSAs were for students with learning disabilities. The MSDE has its own methods for ensuring that test scores are reliable, according to Johnson. "We have steps and statistical analyses that we take to ensure the accuracy of all test scores."

Testing worries

Many believe that states should no longer trust Pearsons to accurately grade standardized tests, said Robert Schaeffer, director of FairTest, a national organization dedicated to ending the misuses of and flaws in standardized testing. "Pearsons is a repeat offender," he said, noting other occasions when Pearsons has admitted to incorrectly grading standardized tests. "Not only did they mis-score the SATs, they also mis-scored graduation tests in Minnesota back in 2000 and settled for $11 million. The Minnesota tests were graded so badly that kids who had passed the test were told they had failed and couldn't graduate," he said.

In addition to grading errors with the 2005 SAT and the 2000 Minnesota graduation test, Pearsons has also incorrectly scored Virginia graduation tests given online in 2005, said Schaeffer.

Pearsons has taken several steps to ensure that the factors leading to incorrect SAT scores are never repeated, said David Hakensen, vice president of public relations for Pearsons.

After the College Board and ETS discovered that Pearsons had inaccurately reported the SAT scores, Pearsons changed the way that it grades tests, said Hakensen. "We now check for moisture and let the tests sit for eight hours in case they are damp, which they never had been before [October 2005]," he said. "We are also editing our software and adopting these changes to all our state programs."

Stating their concerns

Some states have contacted Pearsons with concerns about the integrity of their state tests, said Hakensen. "We've had some states call to make sure their tests were accurate," he said, but he explained that although Pearsons has made mistakes before, states should not worry about the reliability of their test scores. "We've had a couple situations where we had human error in some of our testing programs, but in the relative scheme of things, we rarely have problems," Hakensen.

Maryland's HSAs are scored by ETS, the College Board and Measurement Incorporated, and Pearsons grades other Maryland tests, said Janice Johnson, such as alternative assessments for students with cognitive learning disorders.

FairTest believes that Maryland should not trust Pearsons's scoring of the alternative MSAs, said Schaeffer. "Maryland should demand an outside rescoring of all Pearsons's tests to ensure accuracy," he said.

Adam Yalowitz. Adam Yalowitz is just silly. You may find him asking you how much sleep you got last night and then smirking when you say "five hours," because he's always slept less, no matter what. When he does sleep, he dreams of Barack Obama, Tastee Diner … More »

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