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New Error Found in Scoring of Test for Gifted Programs

Ohanian Comment:

Question: Does anybody worry about the overall testing abilities of a company that can't even get the test takers' ages right?

Question: Does anybody look this closely at the 'regular' test results--or is this inquiry because of political pressure brought by parents of kids scoring near the 97%ile?

What worries me is the secrecy of the test questions. Over the years I've seen samples, and they aren't pretty. Often, the reading passages are minimally OK but then the questions are from an adult perspective--quite inappropriate.

There's a reason they keep this material away from public scrutiny.

by Al Baker

Three weeks after New York City disclosed that thousands of students had been wrongly excluded from eligibility in public school gifted programs, the Education Department said that roughly 300 additional students received incorrect scores because of another mistake by the testing company.

Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, said on Friday that the Education Department was considering terminating the contract with the company, Pearson. After the first errors of the company were found, the city withheld $500,000 from its $5.5 million contract.

The city said 82 students were newly eligible for seats in districtwide programs, meaning that they had scored at or above the 90th percentile. It said 64 others were now eligible for one of the five more competitive, citywide gifted programs, open to those at the 97th percentile or higher.

In addition, the percentile ranks of 159 students will rise, within the competition for districtwide or citywide programs, though it was unclear what effect that would have on winning a seat.

"We are not reducing anyone's percentiles," said Erin Hughes, an Education Department spokeswoman. "No students will be disadvantaged because of Pearson's errors."

In the previous case, 4,735 students -- or 13 percent of all those in kindergarten through third grade who sat for the tests -- were affected by the errors.

Affected families will be told of the changes by phone, and will have until next Friday to apply to programs, nearly a month after the original deadline, the department said.

The city is in the second year of its three-year contract with Pearson, and has worked with it for at least five years. In its first round of mistakes, Pearson said it did not correctly count students̢۪ ages in calculating their percentile ranking, used incorrect scoring tables and used a faulty formula to combine the two components of the test into one percentile ranking. This time, Mr. Walcott said, the company factored in an incorrect test date for roughly half the test takers, which skewed their scores because it miscalculated the students' ages.

Mr. Walcott said Pearson had failed "to complete the basic quality assurance tests," which he called "deeply disturbing."

Scott Smith, the president of learning assessment for Pearson, said that there was "no excuse for the scoring errors" and that the company was "taking all necessary steps to ensure this doesn̢۪t happen again."

Donna Taylor, the principal of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide program, said the first errors were unfortunate, but the new ones were "just not acceptable."

"As much scrutiny as all of us at the D.O.E. face -- and after all, we should -- it's incumbent upon us to establish partnerships with companies who have a proven track record of effective practices that ensure reliability and accuracy," she said. "Clearly, Pearson's sloppy work this year falls far short of that mark."

— Al Baker
New York Times





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