Standardized testing heavyweight Pearson announced this week that it accidentally released two essay questions used in Texas a few days before the exams were given to Texas school children.
Strict security is part of what makes Pearson one of the top standardized testing firms in the US. However, officials with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) say that the chance that any students were able to see said questions before taking the exams is very small, according to an Associated Press story via The Killeen Daily Herald.
The two essay questions were sent via email to 650 scorers – generally part-time employees of Pearson whose duty it is to objectively score student tests at the conclusion of each testing season. In general, the questions are not sent to the scorers until after the test has already been taken.
The mistake was ours, and we regret it,” said Dave Clark, Pearson’s vice president of state services. “Assuring the highest security of test materials is of the utmost priority, and one error is too many. We immediately reviewed the matter and took swift action to help prevent the issue from recurring, including adding technological changes to further safeguard against any potential untimely release of any test item.”
Of those 650 email recipients, 98 of them live in Texas. Of those, 22 are either elementary, middle or high school teachers, and several more are retired teachers.
“There is no evidence that this situation represents a systemic problem with Pearson’s management of the testing system,” TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.
The two questions were part of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test for English I and English II according to an article by Jeffery Weiss of The Dallas Morning News.
The “short answer” question for English I and “connecting short answer” question for English II represent 20 percent of the scores of the exams that all students must pass to graduate, according to the TEA.
Each reading selection is several pages long, so a student with prior knowledge could have a time advantage over other students.
While the TEA’s Ratcliffe said she believed it was an honest mistake, she also spoke as to the state expressing “deep disappointment with Pearson’s mistake.”
FairTest, which bills itself as The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, classified the mistake as small, but said that Pearson has a habit of small mistakes which might be masking a larger problem of security.
In September of 2013, Fairtest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer released a compiled list of Pearson foul-ups dating back to the late 1990s.
This is the second year in a row that Texas has experienced a problem with Pearson. In 2013, the state auditor ruled there was “inadequate monitoring of Pearson’s contract vendor determined costs of assessment changes without sufficient oversight and failed to disclose hiring nearly a dozen former state testing agency staff.”