Common Core Assessments

Minnesota ED Renegotiates Pearson Contract in Face of Testing Outages

A testing provider has had to reduce the value of its contract and kick in some free services for shoddy server performance during a major assessment period in Minnesota. Earlier this year, the Department of Education twice temporarily suspended the state's comprehensive assessments when students had problems logging into the testing system run by Pearson.

According to the company, "difficulties stemmed from a server failure and a server's inability to distribute heavy loads of student traffic." Then Pearson's testing platform suffered malicious distributed denial of service attacks, in which somebody attempted to disrupt the system — and the testing process — by overwhelming it with Web traffic.

Under the resolution, Pearson will slice a million dollars in fees off of the contract total and provide up to $4.69 million worth of additional services and support for districts and schools at no cost to the state. Those services will include:

  • Supporting administration of the ACT exam and augmentation of state funding to allow all eligible students to participate in the college entrance test;
  • Providing access to Pearson Perspective for the duration of the contract and renewals. Perspective is an online tool intended to help teachers and students improve their performance by providing supplemental resources aligned to career and college readiness academic standards;
  • Access to WriteToLearn for students in grades 8 and 10 for the duration of the contract. This online literacy tool supports students with essay writing, reading comprehension and vocabulary exercises;
  • Making improvements to technical support and reporting;
  • Commissioning of a study to determine the testing options for a new writing exam required by the 2015 Legislature; and
  • Delivering additional training and support to staff and districts.

"The disruptions experienced by students and teachers this spring were simply unacceptable," said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. "Pearson has been working with us in good faith to arrive at this significant settlement that provides us with assurances, and recognizes the magnitude of the impacts that the failures had on the state. This settlement also provides in-kind services that can help improve student outcomes statewide."

The company will also be moving its Minnesota assessment testing to a new cloud-based testing platform, which includes added security and data controls and the capability to automatically expand network access during DDoS disruptions. This newer testing platform had 100 percent uptime during the 2014-2015 school year, and users had no disruptions from DDoS attacks.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.