Pearson, the test maker under fire for several recent gaffes, has had a fourth question thrown out by New York state education officials. This time it was a math question where the test incorrectly asked students to double the length of two sides of a trapezoid and measure the new perimeter when they had meant to ask students to double the length of three sides. As asked the question assumed knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem — something not typically taught to fifth-graders.
A spokesman for the State Education Department said that the question would not be counted.
John B. King Jr, commissioner of the State Education Department suggested that Pearson is being unfairly attacked by people with their own agenda; that the scorn over the pineapple and the hare parable was more indicative of increased student access to social media than a sudden failure in testing standards.
"In every administration of a test we've had, there's always the occasion of a typo," he said. "There is the occasional question that we have to adjust."
In addition, teachers and advocated opposed to linking teacher pay to student test scores are seizing on every typographical error and controversy in a bid to undermine the reforms.
Fred Smith, writing in the Washington Post, discusses the specifics of how standardized tests for this year were designed. Pearson's predecessor, CTB, used stand alone field testing which is now considered a flawed approach as students have no incentive to do well on the tests and they thus fail the success prerequisite of the sample students being representative of the whole testing population. Instead of this approach, Pearson actually embed the field test questions inside the real exam.
The assumption behind this approach is that students will strive to do well on all items since they don't know which ones actually count in evaluating them (and their teachers and schools). By design, about one-third of the multiple-choice items do not count. Performance on these items will be studied to decide which should go on 2013's exams.
Pearson has a new five year $32 million agreement with the New York State Education Department to develop English Language Arts and math assessments for grades three to eight. It grew rapidly as a result of securing contracts with states following the No Child Left Behind Act.