Pearson’s Wrong Answer

Updated (Oct. 10): Pearson responded to this post in the comments section.  See Pearson’s Apology. 

Last Friday morning, my fourth grader handed me her “Thursday folder” shortly before we needed to head to the bus stop. I was glad to see a perfect spelling test, and a bunch of excellent math assignments and math tests. Time was short, however, so I flipped to the wrong answers. And sprinkled among the math tests, I came across two wrong answers that caused me concern.

The first problem was this:

Now, I looked at this problem before I’d had my morning coffee, and I wasn’t sure at first that I wasn’t just missing something. So I posted this picture to my Facebook feed, and asked my friends to confirm that I wasn’t crazy.

But my daughter was right: if Curtis walked three miles a day for 26 weeks, Curtis did in fact walk 546 miles.

3 miles/day x 7 days/week = 21 miles/week
21 miles/week x 26 weeks = 546 miles

I double, triple, and quadruple checked myself.  I pulled out a calculator.  

My friends agreed: my initial reaction to this question wasn’t nuts. My daughter’s answer was correct. And they came up with some good theories for why the answer might have been marked wrong.

Perhaps the teacher was trying to teach children, especially girls, to be confident in their answers, and she’d been marked wrong due to the question mark.

Perhaps she’d been marked wrong because she failed to indicate the units.

Perhaps she’d been marked wrong because she hadn’t provided every step of her work (i.e., she’d figured out the first step (3 miles/day x 7 days/week = 21 miles/week) in her head, and therefore had paid what one of my friends memorably described as a “smart kid penalty.”

But they were all wrong.

My daughter is fortunate enough to attend an excellent public school and her responsive teacher both sent a note home and called me that afternoon to discuss (I’d scribbled a quick note asking what the deal was along with my required signature on the front of the paper).

It turned out that my daughter had been marked wrong for a very simple reason: the Pearson answer key was wrong.

Let me say that again: Pearson was wrong.

Pearson listed some totally different — and wrong — number as the answer. The teacher had missed it when reviewing the test with the morning class, but in the afternoon class she’d realized the problem. My daughter’s teacher apologized for forgetting to mention it again to the morning class (and for not having previously changed their grades, but to be honest, I really could not care less if my kid scored a 95% or 100% on a 4th grade in-class math test).

In the olden days, I’d have laughed it off. Once in awhile, the textbook publisher screws up. In the olden days, that screw up was no big deal: it is mildly annoying to those of us who pay the taxes to buy the books, but it’s a pretty minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

However, these are not the olden days. These are the days of high stakes testing. These are the days in which our kids’ high school graduations hinge on tests created by the very same company — Pearson — that screwed up the answer to this question.

Tests we parents will never get to see.

Tests we parents will never get to review.

Tests we parents will never get to question.

So Pearson’s screw up on its fourth grade answer key doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Presumably, before the enVisions curriculum was published, Pearson checked and rechecked it. Presumably, its editors were well-paid to review problems and answer keys.

After all, Pearson itself describes this math curriculum as:

Written specifically to address the Common Core State Standards, enVisionMATH Common Core is based on critical foundational research and proven classroom results.” 

And yet… it was still dead wrong.

It seems that all of Pearson’s critical foundational research and proven classroom results in the world couldn’t get the question 3 x 7 x 26 correct.

To the uninitiated, I bet I sound nuts.  Who cares, right?  It’s just a question on a math test.  But if we are going to trust this company to get it right on high-stakes tests (where there is no public accountability), then the company better get it right all the time when it is operating within the public eye.  So this isn’t just about a fourth grade math test.  It’s all of the other Pearson-created tests my daughter is scheduled to take: in particular, the PARCC tests this spring, which are the ones that come with no public review, and no public accountability.  

Here, the test came home in my daughter’s backpack. As a result, there was an opportunity for public review and public accountability because I could review the test and question the wrong answer. The teacher could check the question and realize that the book was wrong, and substitute her own professional judgment for that of the textbook publisher.

And most importantly, the mistake was not a big deal, because the outcome of this test would not determine my daughter’s placement into an advanced math class or a particular school or even prevent her from graduating from the fourth grade. The outcome of this test would not determine her teacher’s future salary or employment. This test was nothing more than the kind of test our nine and ten year olds should be taking: a fourth grade in-class, teacher-graded chapter test. At most, this test will determine a small portion of my daughter’s report card grade.

But what about those tests that Pearson will be administering to our students this spring? We won’t be able to review the test questions, the answer keys, or our children’s answer sheets. We won’t be able to catch Pearson’s mistakes.

This spring, even if the answer really is 546 miles, Pearson will be able to write that Curtis traveled 1024 miles, or 678 miles, or 235 miles, or any other distance it wants. And we’ll never know that our kids weren’t wrong: Pearson was. But our kids’ futures — and their teachers’ careers — will be riding on the outcomes of those tests.

There has to be a better way.

In a low-stakes world, Pearson’s screw up was a low-stakes mistake. But now we’re forcing our kids — our eight, nine, and ten year olds — to live in a high-stakes world.

And in a high-stakes world, Pearson’s screw ups are high-stakes. So shame on you, Pearson, for undermining my daughter’s hard-earned (and easily eroded) math confidence with your careless error. I will parent my kid so that she learns not to second-guess herself with question marks after her answers. 

But Pearson, I will be second-guessing you. As publicly as possible.

And perhaps… just perhaps… I will start shorting your stock.

235 thoughts on “Pearson’s Wrong Answer

  1. I have experienced that too during our review for licensing exam. The answer key was wrong, so we made corrections on the reviewer, however, what if it’s the real test paper? I’m sure it will affect our score… to think that it’s licensing exam… you can’t mess up with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a problem that should be taken seriously. YES it is a big deal. I am a college student and I remember not long ago in my high school classes where the teachers would frantically try to teach us what was on the test and how to take the test to save their own selves and try to usher the kids along. We are not robots, we are humans and there should NOT be one set way of testing a students ability. Answer keys can be helpful to teachers because teachers have so many other things to do, it saves time and their peace of mind but they should not be used on everything. Some kids cannot take a test well but they might be better at doing something hands on. Then there are kids who love tests and do well with them. It depends on what kind of learner you are. Just because getting one question wrong on a test can affect a students future. It’s stupid and wrong for that to happen but we are being treated as sheep, being herded into one category. Not everyone sets out to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a dentist, or a CEO, or a politician. Those are decent and respected professions, yes. But standardized test should not be the end-all-catch-all by no means. Again, WE ARE NOT ROBOTS! You cannot input information into a bunch of people and expect the output to be exactly the same! Our work after school will not be paper test after paper test so why should we learn that way?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am in middle school and we do this sh*t all the time, but I feel that is a small problem. This is home work, and that doesn’t get graded. Those people who are saying you can get “scared for life” I get questions wrong all the, and I don’t really care


  3. More frightening to me is that one company has so much control over curriculum….math is math. What about Social Studies? What is recommended reading for ELA? Control education and you control democracy…at least to a concerning extent.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The way the question is worded (badly) means there are in fact any number of answers. For instance one could answer that, “Curtis walked 21 miles per week” which would also be a correct answer to the question as asked. To arrive at the answer of 546 only one would have to ask, “If Curtis walked 3 miles every day for 26 weeks how many miles did he walk in the 26 weeks” Science is about unambiguous statements.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, children and their teachers face poorly worded, ambiguous questions every day in Pearson’s curriculum, as well as incorrect answer keys. Pearson is granted permission/power to evaluate teachers, label children and grade schools using test questions and answer keys that I have no doubt are confusing and incorrect, but we aren’t allowed to see the questions and answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree! At the end of high school every mark matters. I know because I made it into my preferred university course by the skin of my teeth and I’ve never looked back. Had I lost one single mark along the way my life would be very different now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve always wondered why a group of parents don’t get together and sue their States to get copies of their children’s high stakes tests. It seems wrong to place such importance on a test for a child and give them no way to see their mistakes. If enough parents stood up and demanded transparency, perhaps the States would be forced to reconsider their dealings with monopolies like Pearson.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I just moved from a the state of Washington where parents have the right to opt out their children from the testing to Massachusetts where parents do not have the legal right to opt out their children from the testing. I am absolutely disgusted by the hold these tests have on us.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Questioning the Test (Or, My List of Skeptical but Respectful Questions Regarding PARCC) | parentingthecore

  10. Presumably, its editors were well-paid to review problems and answer keys.

    As someone who has worked in print publishing for 15 years, I truly laughed out loud at this.

    You are dramatically overestimating the profits and profit margins of publishing companies, and you fail to have even a fundamental knowledge of typical rank and file salaries.

    How can I read and enjoy your blog if I can’t trust you? This isn’t just about this blog post, it’s about every post you’ve ever published. The legitimacy of your entire blog is called into question.

    I look forward to you apologizing for your factual error and
    providing some accountability to try and rebuild my trust.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Talk about being off-topic! This blog is not in anyway shape or form about “the profits and profit margins of publishing companies”or a “fundamental knowledge of typical rank and file salaries”. For someone in the publishing field for 15 years, you need to practice reading with comprehension.


      • You made the point about salary, not me. It’s definitely on-topic otherwise you wouldn’t have mentioned it originally.

        Just because your blog isn’t entitled the “Pay Structure of Publishing Companies” doesn’t mean you weren’t uninformed and making a false claim. You were.

        This entire episode is about accuracy and accountability, right?

        This blog might only be read by a few people, but the decent thing to do is probably admit your error.


      • Not only are you off topic, once again,but you are confused. I am not the author of this blog. You see people are allowed to respond to a blog, any blog and that is what I did here. I responded to your inane comments. The only decent thing to do is to admit your error.


  11. Reblogged this on The Readneck Review Blog and commented:
    Think about this.
    Math is the least subjective thing to learn in school. It isn’t shades of grey. You can easily prove an answer us right or wrong.
    Now think about something with some wiggle room in it. Some room for interpretation.
    Like History. Or Ethics. Or Politics (Social Studies) or heck even Geography!
    If the test is written by someone of a different opinion than you, those correct answers you give them could be “wrong” according to the test.
    For example there is a huge historical debate over the “primary cause of the civil war.”
    Slavery? States Rights? Economics?
    Depends on who writes the test.
    Common Core doesn’t leave room for debate, just tests.
    And now even the right answer could be wrong just because they don’t bother to look it up!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yup. Unfortunately, the fun in discovering and sharing strategies has been extinguished by the Common Core way of doing things. Then you add the fact that the answer key in incorrect and get absolutely disgusted.


  12. Think about this.
    Math is the least subjective thing to learn in school. It isn’t shades of grey. You can easily prove an answer us right or wrong.
    Now think about something with some wiggle room in it. Some room for interpretation.
    Like History. Or Ethics. Or Politics (Social Studies) or heck even Geography!
    If the test is written by someone of a different opinion than you, those correct answers you give them could be “wrong” according to the test.
    For example there is a huge historical debate over the “primary cause of the civil war.”
    Slavery? States Rights? Economics?
    Depends on who writes the test.
    Common Core doesn’t leave room for debate, just tests.
    And now even the right answer could be wrong just because they don’t bother to look it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I hope that, as an attorney, you’ve won every single one of your cases. That you never made a mistake writing a white paper, or that you’ve never said anything that has cost your client a win.

    Because if you make one mistake, how can any clients ever trust you to do your job correctly again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • While you might not gave meant that as praise, it is entirely true that we would trust lawyers less who lost cases. Or doctors who lost patients.
      In this case there is no one working against the textbook editors. No other lawyer was arguing that the answer was “376” instead. There was no life on the line. It was laziness times three (as these are supposed to be checked three times independently in review)


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  17. I teach 4th grade with this miserable Pearson Envision. It doesn’t just have one error, it has at least an error in each unit…wrong answer key, many questions make NO sense, poor/incorrect directions, no commas used in numbers, teacher book does not match the student book so I have to look at a student book and match what the page looks like while I scroll through every page in the book with the pages printed so TINY you can barely read it and more.
    The whole program is a complete joke, except it’s not funny, not funny at all.
    I have parents complain about it weekly, I get phone calls late at night with crying, frustrated kids and parents have no idea to help them.
    I can’t believe this program is out in schools. It is an embarrassment to education and I can not see that any sane person would make teachers use this garbage.
    I haven’t read the apology from Pearson yet, but there is nothing they can say for this garbage work.

    And….yes your children will be scored, judged, placed based on tests you will not see if you did see it you would be outraged! Even Pearson knows it’s crap, which is why we teachers can’t EVEN TALK ABOUT WHAT’S ON THE TEST!
    Why do we accept this America?
    I have documented, reported and begged for a different program to no avail. I am afraid to do much more because I could get fired for it or get a reputation as a “problem”.
    This so called math program goes against every fiber of my being, and everything I know as a teacher for 18 years.
    Our kids deserve better, but Pearson will always “win” because they have the big bucks and will make boatloads more feeding our kids crap and then ranking them on it and firing teachers for low scores.
    I love teaching, but I am not sure how much longer I can take this blatant money grubbing company that is taking over education.
    If you don’t believe me, look at the garbage yourself. You will see.
    If you haven’t seen this program and tried to teach from it then I am sorry but your comments about it mean nothing to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Saying, I feel your pain. You should see fifth grade’s Envision garbage AND that material is completely developmentally inappropriate, as determined by the Common Core. Try coming up with a reason (a scenario) that makes sense to a ten-year-old child that would need them to multiply a decimal by a whole number or a decimal by a decimal, or to divide a decimal by a whole number or to divide a decimal by a decimal, or to divide a whole number by a decimal. AND do this without having taught a hint of percentages and how percents relate to fractions and decimals (I guess percents are in sixth grade?). It’s bad enough that Common Core places fractions in on domain and decimals in another, so they aren’t taught together in the curriculum, but without percents the word problems are absurdly stated. AND when do ten-year-olds need to figure out a tip for the waiter, or miles per gallon for a trip they are taking? I can go on, but forget it. The poor children are overwhelmed and rightly so. I would love to get together with you and others to go through the curriculum and identify (expose) all its errors. Unfortunately, I’ve got better things to do with my time. Carry on…


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  21. I am writing to you my frustrations as an educator so that you might appreciate knowing there are teachers out there who feel as you do. I am a mathematics teacher in upstate New York, which, like New Jersey, has subscribed to the juggernaut Pearson’s PARCC assessments. Fortunately for us, our lawmakers have delayed the transition to PARCC assessments, as clearly this system is lacking in so many ways. Do not get me wrong… I do believe there is a time and a place for testing and measuring student growth. However, this profit centered and rushed effort by Pearson is as discouraging as it is frustrating.
    Despite all attempts at preparing for the new age PARCC assessments, students are not ready for this leap. This is not due to a lack of effort or preparation attempts by schools, but rather, a lack of support from Pearson. Clarity around the user interface has been vague, and it is more than just probable that students who know their stuff will score lower than their ability due to this unfamiliarity. Schools that field tested this spring have a slight advantage. Those students who were tested this past spring however, are now in a different grade and are likely using new tools for calculations / graphing / writing / solving equations, etc…
    Pearson has a solution to this however… According to the PARCC website, Pearson has designed practice tests “so that all students – not just those involved in the field testing – can experience PARCC test items the way they will appear on the tests.” I agree that, if properly utilized, this could be of great benefit to educators in designing lesson materials that prepare students for such exams. The only problem? They have yet to release any mathematics Performance Based Assessments that were expected to be made available “Fall 2014”. With the first PBAs arriving in March, students have very little time to familiarize themselves with the more difficult question types, never mind learn to navigate the new interface.
    Despite how this may sound, I am not a huge proponent of dedicating entire classes, schooldays and sometimes a sequence of schooldays to prepare for standardized testing. I firmly believe that such practice should be embedded in every lesson, from day one, and should only make up a fraction of instructional time. Pearson’s delay with releasing this material is perplexing given that the first PBAs will be administered in just three months. This delay forces schools and educators into a position where they feel the need to have students cram in order to adapt to the new interface and question types. I agree with the many who feel this is an absolute misuse of otherwise valuable instruction time.
    PARCC has clearly articulated the importance of releasing sample test items in their intended environment so as “to provide information about the assessment system and support educators as they transition to the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests.” Yet, as Fall has come and gone, and 2014 has moved into 2015 the PARCC website still reads:
    Fall 2014 Release
    English Language Arts/Literacy: Grades 3-11 End of Year tests
    Mathematics: Grades 3-8 Performance Based tests in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry
    Yet, these tests still do not exist.
    I am fortunate to work in New York State, since we will not be required to use the PARCC assessment system this year. I could not imagine the frustration level of educators who have been largely misled and yet may still be evaluated on their students’ performance on such mysterious exams.
    But… the frustration is still tangible in our little bubble because Pearson also designs the pencil-and-paper tests we take in NYS. Like PARCC items, many of our assessment items are impervious to public or even educator oversight. As a matter of fact, discussion of secured testing material by an educator could result in loss of that educator’s accreditation. Such is the reason for this nom de plume correspondence. What I am about to discuss, may fall somewhere on either side of a very grey line.
    To give some context, I am a rather successful middle school mathematics teacher in a very disadvantaged and underprivileged area of upstate NY. Despite this, my students have consistently scored in the top 1% of schools in all of NYS on these Common Core assessments. I am not overly proud of myself despite their accomplishments (for which they should be very proud). My disappointment comes from a concession I have made in educating my students in order to enhance their test scores.
    This may get a bit mathematical, but bear with me and you will understand my frustration. In the spring of 2013 my students took a state exam designed by Pearson. On this exam was a question that asked students to select a graph that had a “greater rate of change” than a given graph. This would be determined by calculating the slope of the given graph and each other graph, selecting the one graph with a greater slope. Simple enough… I felt my students would be well prepared for such a question.
    As I observed my students taking this exam, I noticed that they were stumped. One raised his hand to tell me that there were two answers. I had not looked at the problem very carefully and just restated that the directions are to fill in only one response for each question. As I continued to circulate, more and more of my students just stared at the problem, recalculating, erasing, recalculating… I finally had to read the problem, and sure enough, there were two answers. One answer had a positive slope and the other a negative slope.
    The mathematical error that the author of this question made was thinking that a negative rate of change is less than any positive rate of change. Mathematically and semantically, this is not true. Change is ranked by magnitude regardless of an increase or a decrease, and which ever rate of change has the higher absolute value indicates a greater change. Not all of my students understood this fully, but many remembered I had told them that the sign does not matter, and that they should compare the absolute values. Now here they were, sitting, stumped because based on my teachings, this question had two answers.
    I felt as if it were my fault for teaching them this, as none of Pearson’s released material ever had students compare a negative rate of change. I felt it would be a cool tangent to explore to enrich their mathematical understanding. I gave examples of situations that illustrated this perfectly and allowed students to debate whether or not it made sense… They seemed to leave those lessons unanimous, and almost as unanimously, struggled when it came time to be assessed. Pearson had made such a gross error that not only frustrated me, but my students as well.
    I discussed this with my boss, who coincidentally also has a mathematics degree, and he agreed that it was a bad question. I wanted to address the issue directly with Pearson, but was not granted permission because of that very grey line. I had no forum with which to vent my frustrations. Those frustrations only grew when I was told that in the future I should teach students the wrong way to do this because that is how Pearson is assessing that standard. I took a large issue with this, as I found it outrageous that anyone would suggest that a publishing company should alter mathematical fact.
    I argued my case over the course of the rest of the year, to the point that it became a running joke in our department… to everyone but me. Finally, I was directed to alter my plans to teach this differently and had to concede. My frustration arose from feeling responsible for hurting my students’ scores the year prior and, to a greater magnitude, about teaching incorrect mathematics to inflate future scores. This compounded as I eventually became the curriculum developer for our district and had to sow these bad seeds as if I believed them to be true.
    The frustration, discouragement and finally embarrassment led me to articulate my feelings on the standard, still without a forum through which to vent… The following are facts, evident to those with a strong understanding of math.
    Two pumps are pumping water… Pump A is filling a pool at a rate of 100 gallons per hour. Pump B is emptying the same pool at a rate of 200 gallons per hour. Which is the faster pump? Clearly pump B is faster. Does that change because pump B is emptying the pool and is written as a negative rate of change?
    Train A departs travelling at 65 mph, while Train B is arriving at 65 mph. Which train is traveling at a greater speed? Obviously they are travelling at the same speed. Does that change because train A’s distance is increasing while the Train B’s distance is decreasing?
    A ski lift brings skiers up a mountain at 6 mph while a skier skis down the same path at 30 mph. Whose elevation is changing faster? Obviously the skier headed down the mountain. Does that change because the skiers on the lift are increasing their elevation while the downhill skier is decreasing?
    Tom earns $250 a week and spends $300 a week. Which of these things would cause a greater change in his bank account? Obviously the spending is causing a greater change in his bank account. Does that change because his earnings are positive and his expenses are negative?
    Fuel tank A is decreasing by 2 gallons per hour while fuel tank B is decreasing by 4 gallons per hour. Which tank has the greater rate of change? Obviously tank B’s fuel level is changing faster. Does that change because they are both negative and -2 is greater than -4?
    Two glasses are both at room temperature. Glass A remains at room temperature while Glass B is placed into a freezer. Which glass do you expect to have a greater rate of change in temperature? Obviously, the glass that was placed in the freezer will have a greater change. But wait, is no change more than negative change?
    According to the author of that question, which was allowed to assess my students’ understanding, I would be wrong on each of those problems. I take real issue with this, as a mathematician and as an educator. The real issue is that teachers are not allowed to provide any feedback on prior questions as they are “secured material.” Furthermore, no clarification has ever been made on this standard, nor any information on how this question was graded. As educators, those with degrees in the subjects we teach, we should be allowed a forum to provide feedback on questions that are ambiguous.
    Furthermore, I am disgusted that we have fostered a society that emphasizes student scores over understanding and comprehension. So much is tied to student performance numbers that educational leaders are willing to overlook accuracy and accountability of the very tests that determine such numbers. Tests have become about generating data, whether or not the data is in fact an accurate representation of what learning takes place in any given classroom or in any given child. This is testing for the sake of testing.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Well done mom!!! I’ve refused the NJask and will refuse the parcc – may child’s grades are excellent and don’t need to be graded. I know she is smart and can comprehend. Don’t need grades to tell me that. It’s all about the money. Parents need to stop being sheep-hearded and say no to these intelligence-insulting tests. They can not legally force children to take a test. There are also states who do not participate in the common core nonsense. I wish people would wake up to he shade the government pulls over society’s eyes. They jump and 1/2 million people say how hi? And this is why these tests have become what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you for sharing this! It is not an overreaction. You made valuable observations! Several times I came across errors in textbooks (esp. math) but in Harcourt Brace. Social media is a good way to express frustrations and get attention from these publishing companies!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. You are absolutely right to be frustrated by this. When I was in college, studying for the NCLEX exam (nursing board exam), we were all issued a Kaplan review book, which was supposed to consolidate all the knowledge we had learned in the last 4 years into a condensed, easy-to-study format…however, I began to notice, there were several errors, things like mixing up opposite words–using “hyperkalemia” instead of “hypokalemia,” for example (high serum potassium versus low serum potassium). That might not seem like a big deal, but in the right context, it can change your fundamental understanding of a subject, lower your confidence and make you question yourself, all of which will have negative effects, in the exam and in the real world. I got freaked out when I started noticing the mistakes, and stopped using the review book, because I just couldn’t trust it to have the right information!


  25. As teachers we’re also obligated to use the tools the way they are meant to be used – as in a Daily Common Core Review is NOT a test. It’s a review to be done during Do It Now time or morning work time and then REVIEWED by the class, not to be determined for grading, what a rich conversation your child COULD have had if this specific tool had been used properly.

    On a whole, I agree whole-heartily with your concerns. Pearson is taking over the world. My kiddos take all their assessments for Envisions online and we as parents are able to see both their scores and missed problems from home.


  26. I do not understand, why is this such a big deal. We’re all humans and we all make mistakes. This one little incorrect answer is nothing compared to some mistakes we made. If you haven’t noticed, no one’s prefect. So wake up!


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