Minnesota Settles with Pearson for $5mil Over Testing Issues


During the 2014-2015 school year, technical problems delayed important Minnesota statewide testing, and now the state has reached a settlement with vendor Pearson over the problems.

The testing contractor will extend a credit to the Minnesota Department of Education of $1 million in fees and will issue up to $4.69 million worth of services and support for districts and schools at no cost to the state, reports KARE-TV.  The spring Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) were complicated due to district complaints, technical disruptions which delayed servers, and malicious attacks aimed at overloading and slowing Pearson’s system. The commissioner was forced to suspend testing on two different occasions.

“The disruptions experienced by students and teachers this spring were simply unacceptable,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “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. This settlement also provides in-kind services that can help improve student outcomes statewide.”

So that these types of problems do not occur this school year, Pearson is moving MCA testing to its newer cloud-based platform which includes additional security and data controls.

One person who believes that Pearson got off easy is Education Minnesota President Denise Specht. She says parents should question the results of this testing and should be skeptical of the measurements of their children’s progress. Overall, Specht thinks relying on high-stakes testing is the wrong approach.

“If we really care about helping all students succeed, we would scale back on this obsession with testing and restore the weeks of teaching and learning lost to test prep and administration.”

Minnesota has a three-year contract with Pearson totaling $38 million for the administration of reading, math, and science tests. The settlement payments include costs for ACT exam support; online help for students and teachers to improve performance in the areas of career and college readiness standards and literacy; staff training; and a study which will create a new writing exam required by the state.

There will also be money for improvements to tech support and reporting, writes Duluth News Tribune’s Jana Hollingsworth.

Casellius stated that the services offered by Pearson under the settlement should help improve student achievement. State education leaders also acknowledged that Pearson’s new cloud-based system has not exhibited the problems that were experienced by Minnesota and other states last spring. Disruptions were reported nationwide with several online providers, according to Christopher Magen of Digital First Media.

In July, New York state announced it would not be using Pearson any longer and awarded a five-year, $44 million contract to Questar Assessments of Minneapolis.

This was not the first time that Minnesota has reached a financial settlement with Pearson, having settled with the company for $11 million in 2000 over 45,000 incorrectly graded tests. Another company, American Institutes for Research, caused problems for Minnesota educators in 2013, but the state did not seek damages in that case.

Pearson’s president, Doug Kuback, stated that he was pleased that the company was able to reach a positive settlement with Minnesota.

“We look forward to a strong working relationship and providing new services that improve educational outcomes for students,” Kuback said.

Although the Department of Education found no solid evidence that student performance was affected by the problems, the study did not look into repeated teacher and student reports of slow-loading tests, malfunctioning calculators, or booted offline users. MCA testing across the state, in results released last week, reported no significant changes in student proficiency compared to 2014 results.

08 5, 2015
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