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. You missed the point of the article. It was not a commentary on whether or not the teacher is “good” and if they should “question authority” (the child IS only 9 year old after all). Rather it is an article calling into question the PARCC, Pearson’s hold on testing and a teacher’s ability to help our children navigate high-stakes testing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve used Envisions and I agree that it is not the best. However, I don’t think blaming Pearson is the answer. It was our district/division/state who chose to adopt the curriculum. There are other companies out there. If people are not satisfied with Pearson, let the district/state know. Write letters to them. Attacking Pearson and naming them as the scapegoat isn’t the answer.

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      2. Pearson writes the tests and a district that teaches from their curriculum may be at an advantage (questions from the curriculum have shown up on tests).

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  1. I happen to teach 4th grade math using Pearson/Envision Math. Trust me, there are MANY errors and flaws with the program. The computerized tests even have items where the same correct answer choice is given for 2 different letters. I do agree, however, that all programs have flaws.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you Kellybell. Much, much, much worse though is GoMath! Just take a look at what the entire state of Florida is going through using it. It is so developmentally inappropriate for early childhood, it should be outlawed!

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      1. Jill,
        The publisher of GoMath! is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. They also sell a reading program called Journeys, which is just their old program -Trophies. Trophies was horrendous so they tweaked it, slapped on a “Common Core” label, and sell it for a lot of money.

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      2. McGraw Hill’s reading/writing program that my district adopted last year to address English Language Arts Common Core Standards “Wonders” isn’t any better. I could go on, but thanks for the information. Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Pearson are all in the game, unfortunately.

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      3. McGraw Hill’s reading/writing program that my district adopted last year to address English Language Arts Common Core Standards (“Wonders”) isn’t any better. I could go on, but thanks for the information. Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Pearson are all in the game, unfortunately.

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    2. Have you used the “interactive” lessons? I stopped using them after the first year of implementation even though that is emphasized as the core of the program because the slide presentation talked down to the children, had incorrect information, too many bings and boings, and was the furthest from interactive that I could imagine – just press the mouse and the speaker asks a questions, press the mouse again and the speaker answers the question – seriously disengaging. Why should a child turn on their brain when the program simply tells kids answers to accept and methods to follow at the click of a mouse. When the questions and answers are wrong, it does more damage than good since it is introducing a new math topic to children and creates extreme confusion.

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  2. It isn’t just Pearson, and this problem certainly existed before Common Core appeared. This problem is in nearly every textbook I’ve ever seen — and this is why I try to avoid textbook use, as a teacher, as much as possible. Even when I do have to resort to textbook use, I follow this simple rule: thou shalt not trust the teachers’ edition.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Why do we depend on answer key so bad? I only look at the answer key when the question is stricky. I told my son that he should do what he believed right then challenged me.

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      1. It’s the Pearson answer key that is used to score the standardized test that determines the score by which teachers are evaluated, schools are graded, students are labeled, and our public school system is put at risk.It is critical thinkers like your son who will be most confused by Pearson’s ambiguous and confusing questions and the multiple choice test that fails to include a correct answer.The concern comes from the high stakes of the standardized tests, not from an error on a homework assignment so much, although some of the Pearson curriculum materials are an absolute waste of time and a source of serious frustration due to errors that required an editor before publication and distribution of the materials.

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      1. A teacher’s salary should not depend on test scores. That’s the underlying problem in a system that doesn’t educate students very well.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Not if you are a parent of a child whose entrance into a preferred school is affected. Not if you are a professional whose license is dependent upon this company’s test. I used to proctor some Pearson View tests. They are unwieldy and students reported issues quite often.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. screwup (noun). ‘screw-up’ if you are timid.

    But NEVER two words as a noun.

    Cf standup, writeup, lineup.

    As verb, as in Please don’t screw up, two words is correct.

    To some of us this is almost like arithmetic.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Your dictionary entry confirms my point! Was I not clear? Suffixed (also prefixed) words as nouns are closed up or sometimes hyphenated — login, dropout, screwup, also buy-in. Not two separate words when a noun.

        Thanks for MW link.

        Is this not an article about error?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, your writing was clear, and, yes, this is an article about error. The error, in this case, was mine, in replying to your comment without reading it, carefully, more than once. When I re-read it, I realized that the screwup was mine, but I had no way to delete, nor edit, my reply — a luxury I am used to enjoying on my own blog, but which I do not have here. After all, if I wrote that last sentence with “screw up” in place of “screwup,” it would look wrong!

        Peace, and thank you for correcting me politely.

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  4. I saw this reposted on the Washington Post Website. You have another fan.

    I cannot agree with you more. I am a science teacher in MA. The state gives the MCAS. The test questions are released to help teachers prepare students for the tests, but I am not able to review and double check answer keys or student responses after the test. I use many of the items from previous MCAS tests in my in class exams. I would say that 1 of every 100 to 300 questions have an error. In class, I can toss the question or count multiple responses – but students are not so “lucky” on the state exam. Since there are MANY students that pass/fail by one question, we are playing the lottery with kids’ futures

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The challenging of authority, appropriately and respectfully, is a fundamental element of child development. A bad answer in the teacher’s guide to 4th grade math is a good place to start. It is a great teaching opportunity to talk about the importance of editing, proofreading and accountability for the final product.

    As for challenging standardized testing, an entire movement has developed around challenging the testing instruments that are allegedly so vital to determining our lives — SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT and then civil service exams and psychological testing for work. All are shortcuts to connecting with people as individuals.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think you need to take a lesson from the olden days and not see this as such a big deal. You should not be projecting out your child’s future based on tests even if they are seemingly the metric of academic success. It is in your child’s ability to think, learn and adapt to different learning strategies and concepts that will ultimately lead to their academic success. I would go so far to say that praise for success or excellence in elementary school can even inhibit this development.

    I came from a modest to poor rural school and I was a terrible student in elementary school. I was even worse at taking tests, so much so that I had to be in special learning support classes in third grade. That in no way predicted my future path. I was learning the material however, I must have been processing it in some other way… Regardless of my academic performance in primary school today I am finishing my PhD at the University of Toronto (fully funded) prior to that I attended The University of Michigan for Masters (partial funding).

    So don’t over think this early learning development. Flexibility, adaptability, and self learning are much more important to learning development and overall success than test metrics or tests.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I took my teaching exam in 1998 there was a typo on the test. The correct answer to a math question was not one of the four multiple choice options. A month after we received the scores, we received adjusted scores to accommodate for the error; however, anyone who got hung up on a problem without an answer would not have been able to finish in the allotted time. That error could easily have prevented people from receiving certification and force them to pay to take the test again.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m a 4th and 5th grade teacher in Texas and I want to thank you for holding Pearson accountable. I wish more parents would pay attention to their children’s homework and grades. It takes all of us working together to fight this high stakes testing environment, which really does not benefit anyone nor does it really tell us anything of value.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As former young person, from the first Set to be required to take these Absurd assessment tests which assess nothing. Especially if you naturally dont test well but you show your intelligence in other forms of work.

    I always thought these tests were stupid and useless.
    We spend a kids whole life wasting it teaching them And prepping them just enough to get them to pass those tests, and nothing else. They miss out on essential building blocks of education and socialization because of it.

    They didnt do us a bit of good 20+ years ago. And they aren’t doing us any good now. My sister got to college only to discover she knows nothing .. Our Country Dropped the ball and now its our mess…

    This needs to end.

    They are worthless. And I cant tell you how many times I suffered bad grades cuz teachers were pissed cuz I had some who knew nothing if their subject And being corrected by a youngster was well embarrassing.

    I am sick of Billions going to war while our govt is abandoning our true future our Kids!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I 100% agree I have a daughter, and though she’s not in school yet, I fear for the future of our education system as a whole. Why should a teacher rely on an answer key when they in fact are the TEACHER. They should check the answers and know the correct response themselves and quit relying so much on answer keys.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m not sure how a wrong answer choice correlates to failure in their ability to hold standardized tests. Making that connection really just shows your lack of understanding of the subject. Any sort of standardized test will be normalized. If there was 1 wrong answer choice then the majority of the students would get it wrong and the entire curve would be shifted not really changing a students placement on the curve. Really if their were 50 wrong answer choices it wouldn’t change anything if the question pool and stats were done correctly which is not reflected by this scenario.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The point is as follows: if Pearson, also responsible for the PARCC, can make such a simple error in one of their Teacher’s Editions, what mechanisms are in place so this does not happen on the PARCC? Will the mistakes be caught prior to the results being used to deny tenure or even worse, fire a teacher?

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  12. Anything involving imperfect humans will have at least some risk of “human” error. The question shouldn’t be why isn’t the Pearson standardized test “perfect”, but how does it compare to the error rate of other publishing test preparers?

    If standardized tests weren’t used, what would be the alternative- individual school created tests? How many potential errors would come from that?

    A better solution would be the teacher run through any test she is preparing to give to the kids to make sure the answer key is correct.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teachers are not allowed to run through the high stakes standardized tests, nor do they ever see how each child scored on the questions. The tests are used to evaluate teachers, score schools and rate children. No one is allowed to look at the questions and answers. Thus, they are worthless in providing teachers and parents any information and harmful to children who have no idea what questions they got wrong or why, just given a rank as a result that determines if they graduate and labels them at a very early age (or should I say grade since this is all “grade-level” standards in which child development and birthdays are not considered).

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  13. Um, have you ever written a test? Humans do make mistakes. If Pearson saw a question missed by even like 70% of students, it would send up flags and they would correct it before it affected graduation rates.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is ridiculous! I am a student that will be taking the PARCC test. How will I know if I got the right score?! And everybody that is being sarcastic or saying we need “help” should get help themselves, because this is a serious problem. Kids’ PARCC scores determine what kind of middle or even high school they will get into. Not to mention that a teacher’s salary depends on the scores his/her students. (Whoever decided THAT was smart needs help too. A teacher could be the best teacher in the world. That doesn’t mean her students will listen to what he/she says and get good grades/scores.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for trying to make people understand what is meant by high stakes and why Pearson’s materials should not be granted the power that it is.

      Like

  15. That’s not the first or last time these testing companies will get it wrong. Often their whole approach (as you even pointed out) is wrong. I transitioned to education from the publishing world and found a bigger mess than I had anticipated. Testing rules the education world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pearson makes the tests. Districts see an advantage to spending money on Pearson’s curriculum to prepare for the high stakes tests. Pearson is in charge. They have no incentive to get the questions or answers right or clear.And they are making soooo much money!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. If those in authority are wrong how can we be sure of any answers. Now we have to question the validity of all tests. In history we have taught that Einstein was a poor math student and that in fact is wrong. We teach that Gandhi was a great leader but I had a Pakistani dispute that. The world is upside down and the corrections are in doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This isn’t overly shocking as any person can make a mistake. But yes, these text books must go over reviews dozens of times before being given the go ahead. It’s scary that they’ll be administering a state test that could possibly provide several answer key mistakes. That’s definitely a valid concern. The problem here is the off chance that this kind of issue would ever be considered to be reviewed by some “Math Association of America”

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Being right or wrong will depend on much more than your ability many other factors play their part.
    How tired you are, what your work load is, your involement in the task.
    In life there are no absolutes we must judge others tolerantly.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Reblogged this on The Zombies Ate My Brains and commented:
    I’m in the process of writing a letter to the dean of my college to “reflect” upon my experience as a mature student. While I am grateful that this reblogged post supports my experience of faulty material in the curriculum, it makes me heartsick.

    My theory: the textbooks are revised almost on an annual basis so that schools and students are obliged to purchase each year. In the process of revision, errors are made and not caught. Until the test.

    This is infuriating.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. As an ESL teacher, the “teacher’s books” that I get are riddled with mistakes. Sometimes this is because the publishers have tried to make British books more American or vice versa. Sometimes, so much effort is put on the main material, that the answer keys are left to the very end, or maybe even the interns.
    Of course, this happens on tests too. I try to be careful when deciding something is wrong. It takes more time, but it takes less time than saying sorry and having to wipe the egg off my face.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. That is truly unacceptable. Unfortunately it is part of the ever-widening circle of incompetency in institutions co-opted by our federal government who then forces us to follow standards that make no sense and, even worse as you point out, are undermined by systems and protocols that are broken or can’t be relied on.

    When a federal bureaucracy is running the show (and education used to be a states’ right), it’s always a case of following the money. Pearson won’t be held accountable nor will you be able to question their competency because somewhere along the line they were awarded an exclusive contract that protects them from – well, from us.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. It’s — in my opinion — immoral that publishing companies such as Pearson create curricula for schools and that it ends up mandated for the use of teachers in those schools. These companies are not disinterested. They’re in it for the money. Teachers are usually in it for the sake of educating students. Those are divergent goals.

    Throughout my long teaching career when Pearson tried to “help” me, it really got my hackles up. “YOU help ME?” I thought. “Your books don’t even make SENSE. Your textbooks for lower level and remedial college English remove the joy completely. You have sold our admins a set of pre-determined student learning outcomes and since they bought your package you get to successfully measure yourself based on standards you’ve created.”

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Reblogged this on samoorstuff and commented:
    I was reading this post and just kept thinking about how my daughter Jennah is having her MAP testing this week.

    How can they mess up answers??? It’s hard enough for us parents making sure our kids are well equipped let alone worrying about some system being faulty.

    So to all those parents out there how serious do you prep or take those tests?

    I really don’t want to be a teacher I just want to be the parent that does fun stuff with her girls and concentrate on Making Life Memorable….is that too much to ask??

    Liked by 1 person

  24. As a fifth grade teacher in Ma, I am behind you 100%. The problem is not the occasional error in a text book or on a test. The problem is that with the intense focus on standardized tests and data collection, teachers are forced to rely on these packaged curriculum materials in order to be sure that we meet every strand of every standard. Huge corporations like Pearson (the worst, in my view), Houghton Mifflin, and others stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars by cranking out texts and tests as quickly as possible, with no incentive to get things right.
    The corporate takeover of American Public education is a tragedy, and if far larger than one error on one fourth grade test.
    Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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