Pearson’s Apology

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 today:

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 (here, on Facebook, and on Valerie Strauss’s blog at The Washington Post, The Answer Sheet) 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.  

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.  

Thank you all again.

22 thoughts on “Pearson’s Apology

  1. Pingback: Pearson’s Wrong Answer | parentingthecore

  2. Sarah, opting out will keep bad data from being used. If enough of us refuse to allow our children to become part of the business of education and the use of the data to evaluate our teachers. Last year Rob refused to take the 4th grade tests. He was the only one to do this in his grade. The Middle Schools cannot hold it against him when matching him for the school.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for acknowledging the problems associated with test-takers who waste time on over-thinking or becoming stressed by bad questions. Students with critical thinking skills are the most likely to miss questions by over-thinking.

    For example, when I was in school I missed this T\F question:

    Pittsburgh PA is a city where 3 rivers come together.

    There are 3 rivers there but the “come together” part was a problem for me. The Ohio river flows in the opposite direction so it doesn’t “come together” with the other 2. At this point I started weighing the odds of answering each way and realized that surely the Teacher meant just the names of the 3 rivers, not their actual direction of flow. I couldn’t bring myself to answer that way because I knew it was technically wrong. She later gave me credit when I explained.

    This may seem like an isolated case but I’ve found that up to 10% of T\F and MC questions have these type of interpretation issues that will have some students wasting time assessing the probability of each response.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a graduate student and teaching assistant for a college engineering class, and I’m required to grade assignments that involve questions out of the book (a Pearson book). I have the official solutions manual for the book, but I’ve had to make my own answer keys because some of the answers are incorrect. Out of probably 20 questions that are assigned out of the book over the course of the semester, at least 3 or 4 solutions are flat-out wrong. I haven’t investigated other questions/answers, but if 15-20% of the solutions are incorrect, that is totally unacceptable, and a bit scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for highlighting this issue. It was nice of Pearson to apologize. However, I am slightly disturbed that the apology contained two grammatical errors (first sentence should have a comma and second sentence should not).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As a retired copy editor, I say there is NO EXCUSE for mistakes such as this. If they want respect and integrity, I suggest they hire trained copy editors and pay them well for their expertise. NO EXCUSE or apology is sufficient.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I teach at a community college and use Pearson textbooks. Even in their third editions of their college level Physics texts there are multiple wrong answers. I would say about 5-10% of the answers are wrong in the back of the books, although the teacher’s solution guides usually have more correct answers. However, I’ve even come across a full solution that was just completely wrong; the person who wrote the solution obviously did not understand the concept. My students have often complained that when they spend $250 or more on a book, they expect it to be correct, especially when it is the fourth printing of a third edition.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How about we all stop acting like these tests are the end-all, be-all of education? I got into the #3 university in the nation with an SAT score that was below 1600 (the max at the time). I’d be shocked if entry criteria were so very different today.

    You could use this as an opportunity to teach your daughter a far more important lesson: sometimes the authority, whether it is a book or your boss or your even your parent, is wrong.

    Like

    • Oh, believe me, we are already teaching our kids, daily, that sometimes the authorities are wrong. In fact, it’s hard to explain that, over and over, as the cry over the fact that 3 x 5 does = 15 and last year that answer was correct! BUT, now everything has changed. The stakes are higher for all concerned. Every little piece has high value and no one is looking at the big picture because if they did, they would see that it doesn’t come together. The lines do not match up. It’s a confusing mess! You suggest that we stop acting like these tests are the end all, be all. How I wish we could! The problem is,these tests ARE the end all, by the authority of the US Department of Education. The federal government laid this upon us in return for funding which turned out to be to good to be true. The data collected from the testing and the ridiculous common core curriculum does and will have a negative effect on our students. It was developed by non teaching experts and cooperations who have no idea how actual teaching and learning works day after day. Millions are trying to stop this because the insidious nature of the common core has stripped away choice, creativity, and logic. It was thrown together in a flash, and Pearson stands to make billions producing subpar garbage while children, teachers, and parents suffer as we wait for the powers to be to finally admit the common core is an epic fail.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How about instead of focussing on the simple fact that people, companies included, make mistakes, we place focus on teaching children that standardised tests aren’t all that important… then take it a step further, and work on reflecting this idea in our social structures? I’m not saying that a company shouldn’t be accountable for distributing a faulty product – which is essentially what seems to have happened, to my mind. But geezus. There’s a much bigger issue here: the issue that this is such a freaking issue.

    Like

    • Oh, believe me, we are already teaching our kids, daily, that sometimes the authorities are wrong. In fact, it’s hard to explain that, over and over, as the cry over the fact that 3 x 5 does = 15 and last year that answer was correct! BUT, now everything has changed. The stakes are higher for all concerned. Every little piece has high value and no one is looking at the big picture because if they did, they would see that it doesn’t come together. The lines do not match up. It’s a confusing mess! You suggest that we stop acting like these tests are the end all, be all. How I wish we could! The problem is,these tests ARE the end all, by the authority of the US Department of Education. The federal government laid this upon us in return for funding which turned out to be to good to be true. The data collected from the testing and the ridiculous common core curriculum does and will have a negative effect on our students. It was developed by non teaching experts and cooperations who have no idea how actual teaching and learning works day after day. Millions are trying to stop this because the insidious nature of the common core has stripped away choice, creativity, and logic. It was thrown together in a flash, and Pearson stands to make billions producing subpar garbage while children, teachers, and parents suffer as we wait for the powers to be to finally admit the common core is an epic fail.

      Like

    • The problem is that standardized tests have been made the be-all and end-all of a child’s education. Many states require a passing score in order for students to move to the next grade or graduate from high school. It won’t matter if my son scored a 32 on his ACT or a 2200 on his SAT if he doesn’t earn a diploma because of a flawed testing regime. His university acceptance hinges, in part, on actually earning the diploma. It is a big deal, and it really does matter.

      Like

  10. As an adjunct at a local University, I have been required to use many Pearson products and have been less then impressed with the quality, and very concerned about their monetizing of educational materials. This is the first year I’m experiencing Pearson from the parent perspective and it’ s troubling to say the least. Thanks for writing on these important topics.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Pearson apologizes to mom for wrong answer - The Washington Post

  12. I am so glad to hear I’m not the only parent who is beyond pissed at these companies for getting it wrong time and time again.

    My son is a 1st Grader. All of the 1st grade is giving the same homework packets. Almost weekly I am calling or emailing the teacher to point out the same type of mistakes. I know we are all human but you set that assignment so out of 5-1st grade teachers they couldn’t take a minute to proof the assignments sent home.

    I agree 100% on the issue of testing accountability. Are children are thrown out to the wolves and we have no way of knowing if the test is failing them or if it’s our children not comprehending the concept.

    Our children need to know more than how to test. Why are we going to waste precious time re-testing them every 9 weeks?

    Like

  13. As an overthinker, I appreciate your acknowledgement of how Pearson’s errors will cause a false low test score because of students such as myself and my son becoming “rattled” by lack of a truly correct answer. Inexcusable! I fear it is a sign of a continuing culture of mediocrity…

    Like

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