Pearson incorrectly scores Virginia student tests

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - More than 4,000 Virginia students with cognitive disabilities were incorrectly told they had passed a test after a scoring error by a national company with a history of similar mistakes.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that testing company Pearson provided miscalculated scorecards to school divisions over the summer to judge the assessments taken last school year. Scores that should have registered as a fail instead were given a higher proficiency level.

Virginia has a three-year, $110 million contract with Pearson to administer and score state tests.

The company apologized to students, parents and the Virginia Department of Education in a statement.

"We understand the importance of accurate reporting and know that the school divisions are now working very hard to make internal adjustments to their scores before reporting them to parents and the state," said Susan Aspey, a spokesman for Pearson.

Pearson issued a similar apology last spring for making mistakes in the scoring of admissions tests for gifted and talented programs in New York City public schools. Other scoring problems in recent years caused delays in final test results in Florida and Minnesota.

Pearson and state education officials said the problem in Virginia came after the company provided miscalculated scorecards to show how the scores were converted into proficiency levels: fail, pass/proficient or pass/advanced.

Some school districts, including many in heavily populated northern Virginia, already had given parents the results before the error was discovered in late July.

The botched scorecards were for the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program, given to students with serious cognitive disabilities who are unable to take regular Standards of Learning tests. The portfolio-style tests review student work that is compiled throughout the school year.

Usually, the portfolios are evaluated on the local level, but Pearson was tasked with judging the scoring this year because the state is moving to new standards, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

Pyle called the mistake "truly regrettable."

Virginia education officials plan to meet with Pearson representatives this week to discuss the problems and whether the state might receive any financial compensation.