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Pearson Contract Evaluated After Errors on NYC Gifted Test

NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott
New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said "this failure to complete the basic quality assurance checks Pearson Plc confirmed that they had completed is deeply disturbing." Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

May 13 (Bloomberg) -- New York families whose children took a test for access to accelerated public-school programs have been informed of a second scoring error by Pearson Plc, prompting the city to re-evaluate its contract with the company.

Pearson failed to use some New York students’ ages at the time they took the test and instead used a default test date, which led some children to be categorized incorrectly. That affected their scores, according to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Families were informed in April of the first error.

“This failure to complete the basic quality-assurance checks Pearson confirmed that they had completed is deeply disturbing,” Walcott said in an e-mailed statement. “For this reason, the Department of Education is reviewing a variety of options, including terminating Pearson’s contract.”

Pearson has been moving deeper into the test-taking market. It receives more than half of its revenue from the unit that sells textbooks and testing and educational-consulting services, cushioning a decline in print sales. In its 2012 annual report released in March, the company said it won state contracts in Colorado and Missouri, as well as one with the New York-based College Board to deliver a middle-school assessment product. Online-testing volume rose 10 percent in the year, Pearson said.

Gifted Program

The errors involved tests that determine eligibility for New York City’s sought-after Gifted & Talented program. Four-year-olds taking the exam qualify to apply for a kindergarten placement in their district if they score in the 90th percentile or higher, and at least in the 97th percentile for the citywide classes. Achieving the score doesn’t mean the student will win a seat in the classes, which have limited capacity.

Pearson, the London-based publisher of the Financial Times newspaper, apologized for the error and has begun to implement changes to the program requested by New York’s Education Department, according to a statement from Scott Smith, president of Pearson’s Learning Assessment unit. The company is taking necessary measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again, he said.

“There’s no excuse for the scoring errors made on the assessments used to determine eligibility for the New York City Gifted & Talented programs,” Smith said.

When asked about Walcott’s statement that the city is considering options including terminating Pearson’s contract, Pearson spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the company would have no further comment at this time.

Pearson shares declined as much as 1.6 percent and were down 0.7 percent at 1,198 pence at 8:24 a.m. in London.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Lorin in New York at jlorin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net

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