Pearson Testing Mistakes Allow 10 Students to Get High School Diplomas

By Catherine Gewertz — June 22, 2017 1 min read
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Ten students are graduating from high school in Mississippi by the skin of their teeth: a scoring mistake gave them one crucial extra point on a history test.

That bit of news was the latest shoe to drop in an assessment screw-up that has led Mississippi to fire Pearson as its testing vendor.

This week, the state department of education announced that 10 students received higher scores than they actually earned on the state history exam. Based on those falsely high scores, the students were cleared to graduate, according to news reports. State officials said they are not going to revoke those diplomas because of the scoring error.

In a statement, Associate State Superintendent Paula Vanderford said that no student failed to graduate because of scoring errors that worked against them.

The Mississippi state board of education fired Pearson last week after the company revealed that it had used the wrong table to score 951 of the U.S. history exams taken by 27,000-plus high school students this spring. Of those students, 36 benefited from scoring errors, but 26 of them had not met additional requirements to graduate.

Board officials noted that the mistake on the U.S. history test marks the third time in recent years that Pearson has made errors that affects students. The first was in 2012, when the company transposed answer choices on the biology exam, resulting in failing scores for 126 students. The second was in 2015, when online science testing for 5th and 8th graders was interrupted.

The board’s move cost Pearson its 10-year contract to give tests in high school biology, 5th grade science and 8th grade science, in addition to high school history. The state gave a one-year, $2.2 million contract to Questar Assessment, which already gives the state’s math and English/language arts tests, to administer the history and science tests instead.

Mississippi used to require all students to pass four subject tests, including history, to graduate, but it changed its requirements. Now students have more options. They can substitute good grades, ACT scores, or college coursework for a failed end-of-course test and still graduate.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.

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