Pearson, the corporation that scores the citywide Gifted and Talented tests for children entering kindergarten, recently made a mistake in the grading process that led to certain students being qualified for the Gifted and Talented programs when they should not have, and vice versa, impacting 146 students citywide. Pearson has apologized, and students took the test all over again.
But this is not the first time that Pearson, which has only been grading the city’s tests for a few years, has flubbed. In fact, this is the fourth time this year that New York City students were on the receiving end of scoring errors. The first error incorrectly calculated students’ ages, and the second and third errors resulted in incorrect score conversion tables.
Last year, they had to remove a certain reading passage from an eighth grade reading test where the moral of the story was “pineapples don’t have sleeves.” This nonsensical passage was the subject of ridicule. Following this latest passage, Pearson had reportedly launched an investigation to determine the cause of the error.
“There’s no excuse for the scoring errors made on the assessments used to determine eligibility for the New York City Gifted and Talented programs,” said Scott Smith, the president of learning assessment at Pearson. “We have already begun to implement the multiple program changes requested by the New York City Department of Education, and Pearson is taking all necessary measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Each time Pearson has made a mistake, the Department of Education has reportedly docked them a certain percentage off their paycheck.
But the Upper West Side community is concerned that this is not enough. Ann Binstock, the parent coordinator of P.S. 87, who has a child in fourth grade, said that if it could happen to kindergarten students, it could happen in any grade.
“Parents of fourth graders are going to be spending next fall applying to middle school, they need to know that the test scores will be accurate,” said Binstock. “It makes even the most calm rational parent nervous.”
The Department of Education is considering other options following this latest error.
“This failure to complete the basic quality assurance checks Pearson confirmed that they had completed is deeply disturbing,” said School Chancellor Walcott. “For this reason, the Department of Education is reviewing a variety of options including terminating Pearson’s contract.”
Noah Gotbaum, candidate for City Council in District 6, said that it’s too little, too late on the part of the Department of Education. He said that parents, teachers and students in his district are already worried about passing the mountains of tests, but now they don’t even know if these tests will be accurate. He said that Pearson’s contract should have been terminated after the first or even second mistake.
“Where’s the accountability? How many chances are they going to get? The whole testing regime is a disaster,” said Gotbaum. “We should not be contracting out work to private companies with no accountability. It’s all about money. They’re turning our schools into casinos.”
As a result of the latest scoring error with Pearson and the re-assessment, more students now qualify to be considered for Gifted and Talented programs. In fact, after the re-assessment, 82 more students who had not previously qualified for G&T now qualify. The problem with this, said Gotbaum, is that many of these high-scoring children, who would have normally been placed into Gifted and Talented programs, will not be because of a shortage of seats.
One of the other issues that parents on the Upper West Side and citywide have had with Pearson is that they do not have to release their test scores. In fact, Binstock had to contact Senator Brad Hoylman’s office to get Pearson to release the test scores. In the past, said Gotbaum, the previous company before Pearson had always released scores and questions following the exam. Now, said Binstock, parents are going to have to wait six months to even know how their child was assessed.
“All we know is parents is we’ve been reading the news on this and you can’t help but be nervous about our kids tested on this material and then you read that it hasn’t been scored properly,” she said. “It doesn’t instill confidence in our school system.”
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