Officials with the company responsible for this year's state English and math tests have not commented publicly on recently-discovered errors in the exams, but a memo obtained exclusively by NY1 and displayed below shows the company has admitted mistakes internally. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
The state's highest education official is no longer downplaying the errors in the high stakes English and math exams.
"The mistakes that have been revealed are very disturbing," said New York State Schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
Almost 30 different test questions have now been declared invalid because they're confusing or have outright errors. And now Pearson Publishing is scrambling to explain what went wrong and how it's going to fix things.
NY1 obtained a memo that an executive vice president at the company sent to the head of the state's testing program. The executive wrote, "We are committed to eliminating any gaps identified by the New York State Education Department between expectation and our performance."
The day before the memo was sent, unhappy state officials had called Pearson. It was a Sunday, just after students finished taking the exams. They had already pulled six questions from a English exam, related to a bizarre passage about a talking pineapple. Then they’d yanked three math questions which didn't add up and made teachers re-score a writing section where the grading guide was off.
But most of the errors were discovered in translations of the math tests into five foreign languages and Braille. Twenty questions either had no correct answer or more than one.
"These inexcusable errors from typographical to translation to a nonsense question," Tisch said.
The Pearson executive wrote that an investigation is underway but said many errors seemed to result from a lack of proof reading rather than a translation issue. He mentions a math question where a negative sign somehow became a positive sign in a translated version. In another case, the translators seem to have confused common middle school math terminology, replacing the term “mean” with a translation of the term “median.”
The memo lays out steps Pearson might take to prevent similar errors in the future and is peppered with sheepish yet eager phrases, like: "Pearson agrees that we need to work diligently to improve" and "we strive for continuous improvement and pledge to continue to learn and improve as we work together."
The executive also promises to present the state with “a more comprehensive plan with timelines, tasks, responsibilities and outcomes clearly articulated and documented.”
Chancellor Tisch said she will give the company one more year. However, some parents and teachers want the state to cancel the company's five-year, $32 million contract. They say students don't get a second chance with high stakes tests, so why should the test company.