Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indiana’s New Test Vendor Finds Itself In Hot Water

    Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

    Indiana education officials have agreed to sign a contract with Pearson to operate the ISTEP+ beginning in the 2016 school year. (Photo Credit: Robbie/Flickr)

    Testing company Pearson – slated to run Indiana’s statewide ISTEP+ tests beginning in 2016 – is facing criticism over security of assessments it handles in other states.

    Education officials in Minnesota canceled statewide science exams Thursday after an apparent cyberattack on Pearson’s system Wednesday. This is the second time testing has been suspended due to hacks in less than a month.

    POLITICO‘s Caitlin Emma summarizes the state’s response to the situation:

    Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius is now questioning whether Pearson can adequately serve as vendor.

    “It is simply unacceptable and unfair to subject students and teachers to this kind of uncertainty in a high-stakes testing environment,” she said on Wednesday. “After the April 21 suspension, Pearson added additional security measures to prevent this type of disruption. Given the need to suspend testing today, I have questions about Pearson’s ability to follow through on their assurances.”

    Cassellius said her department will talk to districts today about next steps.

    Pearson representatives said in a statement that student data had not been compromised.

    The Minnesota Department of Education is evaluating options that include exiting their two-year testing contract with Pearson early, and possibly even pursuing further legal action, according to reports from local television station KARE.

    The state’s contract with Pearson costs about $33.8 million. Estimates for the company’s agreement with Indiana run about $38 million.

    Just like in Indiana, students and teachers in Minnesota are evaluated based on these standardized test results. That means not having accurate test data – or any data at all – can be detrimental to schools.

    Surely, Indiana education officials are hoping to avoid conflict with their new test vendor – they’ve had plenty of mishaps and test interruptions in past years with current partner CTB-McGraw Hill.

    State Board of Education spokesperson Marc Lotter tells StateImpact that the board plans to keep a close eye on the situation in Minnesota. He adds that board members will push to include performance-based metrics and penalties in the state’s final contract with Pearson to ensure Indiana has a reliable, safe and accurate test.

    In a guest blog post for the Washington Post, Alfred G. Binford, Pearson’s managing director of assessment and direct delivery, defended the company’s track record, which has been the subject of many negative news reports in recent months:

    This spring, there’s rightly been a great deal of media and public scrutiny as we and other testing companies have rolled out new tests. Pearson holds itself to a very high standard for excellence – when our services do not work properly, we should be held accountable. When technical glitches briefly interrupted online testing for some students in Colorado and Minnesota, we acted quickly to identify the causes and implement a fix to allow testing sessions to continue. While glitches are rightly high profile, they are the exception. We apologize for the inconvenience this caused and are taking steps to make sure students and teachers get a much better service from now on.

    Pearson is one of the largest education companies in the world, according to Fortune magazine, which estimates its share of the U.S. testing market at 60 percent.


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