Top 12 Testing Snafus

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The current delay scoring New York City students’ Regents exams is just the latest mess-up in an industry with a history of high-profile flubs.

It’s not even the biggest testing mistake in the city this year. In April, the Department of Education announced, about 2,700 city students were wrongly told they weren’t eligible for the Gifted & Talented program because of problems with the test.

And high-profile testing errors haven’t been limited to New York over the years. In Minnesota, some high school seniors missed out on their graduation ceremonies because scoring errors made it look like they’d failed. In Indiana, server crashes and technology glitches delayed tests for students three years in a row.

In Washington State, a testing company had to re-score 204,000 exams because of scoring errors.
The problems have plagued the testing industry over the past 15 years as states increasingly relied on high-stakes standardized tests to gage student performance and make decisions such as graduation eligibility and school funding.

The testing industry swelled after the No Child Left Behind Act required all states to measure performance with standardized exams. In their defense, industry officials say some mistakes are inevitable, especially during a time of tremendous growth.

WNYC, with the help of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, compiled a list of the top 12 testing company errors since 1999. If you know of any others worth mentioning, let us know about them in the comments section below.

2013 — The testing company Pearson made several errors scoring the tests 36,000 New York City students took to get into a Gifted and Talented program. As a result of the mistake, almost 3,000 city students were wrongly told they didn’t qualify for the programs.

2013 — Nearly 80,000 Indiana students faced interruptions and delays taking their tests after the testing company, CTB McGraw-Hill, had widespread technology problems including crashed servers. It was the third year in a row students contended with technology problems and the state’s Department of Education is seeking at least $613,000 in preliminary damages, according to press reports.

2012 — In New York, a question about a race between a pineapple and a hare caused widespread ridicule and many questioned the state’s $32 million contract with the testing company, Pearson. It turns out the company used the passage in the New York test despite earlier questions about the material from other states.

2012 — Pearson agreed to pay $623,000 after a scoring error in Mississippi impacted 121 students including five who were kept from graduating as a result of the mistake.

2010 — Pearson paid Florida almost $15 million for delays in reporting test scores. The scores are important for educators who use the test to help determine student promotion, teacher assignments and class placements.

2008 — A test given to some Arkansas kindergarten students was the same as a practice test Pearson had sent to the schools. As a result, tens of thousands of students had to retake the exam.

2007 — Florida decided to re-grade 204,000 tests of third-graders after determining the scores on the Harcourt created test were inflated.

2006 — Pearson’s scanners had trouble reading SAT answer sheets. The problem affected the scores of about 4,000 students, many of whom earned higher scores than what was reported to their prospective colleges. The scores were off by as much as 400 points.

2004 — Educational Testing Service incorrectly scored a teacher licensing exam. As a result, about 4,100 were falsely told they failed. In all, 27,000 should have received higher scores.

2002 — Harcourt miscalculated the score necessary to pass a Virginia writing test, labeling more than 5,600 students as failing when they had in fact passed.

2000 — Pearson used an answer key with six wrong answers to grade 47,000 tests of Minnesota students. As a result, 8,000 students were told they failed when they had actually passed. Dozens were unable to take part in their graduation ceremonies as a result of the error.

1999 — As a result of a software problem, CTB McGraw Hill mis-scored tests in a number of states. Hardest hit was the New York City Department of Education where nearly 9,000 students were ordered to attend summer school as a result of the mistake.