Updated 10/18/2012 09:08 PM
NY1 Exclusive: After Mistakes, State Officials Amend Contract With Test Producer
After dozens of embarrassing mistakes turned up on New York State's standardized tests given earlier this year, NY1 has learned that state officials have changed their contract with the company that produced them. Now, errors on those tests could cost the company millions of dollars in fines. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
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They're known as high-stakes standardized tests but last spring, the New York State tests became known for their high rate of errors. Nearly 30 different issues cropped up, causing students to get caught up on questions with no correct answer or two correct answers. There was also a nonsensical reading passage about a talking pineapple racing a hare.
The problems surfaced during the first year of a five-year contract with the publishing company Pearson, a $32 million deal that state officials quietly amended last month.
"What was clear to us after last spring that we wanted to make sure we had in place additional procedures to avoid any kind of errors," said State Education Commissioner John King.
The changes are significant. Pearson now has to fill out a lengthy checklist for every single question on every single exam, certifying that it meets New York's standards. State officials will then review every question and decide whether to accept or reject it.
"We wanted to make sure, in our agreement with Pearson, it was clear what the quality standards would be for New York State and that there were consequences for Pearson if those standards were not met," King said.
If the state rejects 10 percent or more of the questions, fines start kicking in. This year, Pearson could face a maximum fine close to $2 million, nearly 30 percent of its total fee.
Advocates who've spoken out against the errors question why quality controls weren't part of the original contract but say it's good the state now added some teeth to the deal.
"The testing companies and Pearson in particular has been allowed to get away with egregious behavior for far too long and it's about time that the State Education Department, here and elsewhere, hold them accountable for their product, which was defective," said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.
Pearson says the company has worked closely with the state on incorporating quality controls.
"Pearson administers more than 40 million tests for millions of students each year, and when operating at that scale, mistakes do happen," said Pearson spokeswoman Susan Aspey. "However, mistakes are rare. And when they do occur, they’re immediately addressed and meticulously analyzed so they don’t happen again."
The tests this spring will be completely revamped to align with new national learning standards. While state education officials say they expect questions to be up to two grade levels more difficult, they say this time around, they expect questions to make sense and each will have one correct answer.