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Earlier this week I published a post titled “Pearson’s wrong answer — and why it matters in the high-stakes testing era” by Sarah Blaine, a mother, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey who writes at her own parentingthecore blog. The post (which has been very popular) detailed what happened when her fourth-grade child came home with some school work and she discovered an error by Pearson, the giant education company, which, she noted, matters a great deal in this high-stakes testing era. It turns out that a Pearson official, Brandon Pinette, senior public affairs manager, posted a comment on Friday to the post on The Answer Sheet apologizing for the mistake.

Here is the apology (which Pinette confirmed  posting), and following that is  a new piece by Blaine (that first appeared on her blog) explaining why she appreciates the apology but why it is still important “to continue to hold Pearson accountable.”

Pearson did make an error on the specific quiz question in a lesson in the Envision Math textbook and we sincerely apologize for this mistake. We corrected the error for future editions of Envision, but failed to adjust the question in editions currently in the field. We owe it to our students and teachers to ensure these types of errors do not happen in the future, and are committed to adapting new protocols to fix mistakes before they happen. Trust in our products and services is key and we have to earn it every day with students, teachers and parents.

Thank you,
Brandon Pinette
Pearson

For everyone who read and commented on my prior post,”Pearson’s wrong answer,” first of all, thank you.  The response has been overwhelming.  Second, I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that my post did eventually percolate its way to Pearson, and a Pearson representative named Brandon Pinette appears to have left a comment on the blog post:

Pearson did make an error on the specific quiz question in a lesson in the Envision Math textbook and we sincerely apologize for this mistake. We corrected the error for future editions of Envision, but failed to adjust the question in editions currently in the field. We owe it to our students and teachers to ensure these types of errors do not happen in the future, and are committed to adapting new protocols to fix mistakes before they happen. Trust in our products and services is key and we have to earn it every day with students, teachers and parents.

Thank you,
Brandon Pinette
Pearson

It seems only fair to make sure that this specific apology for this specific mistake gets highlighted more than as one of almost a hundred comments to a blog post.

However, from the overwhelming responses and comments this blog post has received, one thing seems clear: this is not an isolated problem (either for Pearson or for textbook and academic material publishers in general). Because my child is slated to take the Pearson-developed PARCC tests this spring, my focus is on Pearson. Mistakes in other textbooks are annoying, but my specific concern about Pearson is its vertical integration throughout the education world: i.e., Pearson writes the textbooks (mistakes and all), Pearson writes and grades the PARCC tests, Pearson provides remedial programs for students who fail the Pearson-generated tests, and Pearson writes the GED tests for those students who drop out of high school.

I encourage anyone who finds other mistakes in Pearson materials to take photos of the specific mistakes, and then Tweet them with the hashtag #PearsonsWrongAnswers and/or email them to me at montclairparent@outlook.com so that I can tweet them for you.

I am glad that Pearson is “committed to adapting new protocols to fix mistakes before they happen” and that Pearson recognizes that “trust in our products and services is key and we have to earn it every day with students, teachers and parents.”

But I still think that we need to continue to hold Pearson accountable.

Many commenters have pointed out, with validity, that there is supposed to be statistical analysis of standardized test questions, and that mistaken questions on the standardized tests will be thrown out as invalid. I am sure that they are correct that this does happen. However, with tests as high-stakes as these, I am not sure that this is a sufficient response.

For instance, imagine if this was a standardized test question. I could easily see a 9- or 10-year-old test taker, who figures out that the correct answer is 546, struggle as she looks at multiple choice responses such as (a) 78 (b) 130 (c) 500 or (d) 63.

And I think that some kids are more likely than others to be distracted by (and therefore waste time on) issues generated by mistakes such as this one. As a result, on a high-stakes timed standardized test, the time wasted on the wrong questions like this one may artificially deflate a child’s score.

And similarly, the child who gets the intended but mistaken correct answer (in this case, 78 miles, which would be correct if Curtis walked 3 miles a day for 26 DAYS) may obtain an artificial advantage because she isn’t bogged down by catching and mulling over the mistake. Throwing out the specific question will not address these issues.

And as long as we are addressing comments, for those commenters who think my post was an overreaction, so be it. Perhaps it was. But as noted above, Pearson has an awful lot of vertical integration throughout the education market, and Pearson’s employee himself admitted that “trust in our products and services is key.”

Pearson has to earn my trust. And since its materials are at the heart of my children’s math education, I will be doing my best to look over its shoulder now, as much as anything as part of my decision-making process concerning whether I think I should join the movement to refuse or opt out of its standardized tests.