The Mississippi Department of Education provided more details on the testing error that affected nearly 1,000 students and allowed some to accidentally graduate.

Thursday morning, MDE chief of accountability Paula Vanderford told reporters the scoring error committed by testing vendor NCS Pearson Inc. helped out students that scored lower on the U.S. History exam, and hurt those who scored higher.

MDE Chief of Accountability Paula Vanderford Credit: Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

“When you look at the impact that the error had and look at the range of scores that students could have received, the students at the lower end of the scale were awarded more points than what they should have gotten,” Vanderford said.

The mistake was a human error, she said—the wrong scoring table was used and resulted in incorrect test scores for hundreds of students. The mix up did not negatively affect students because everyone affected got to keep the higher test score, she said.

“With the correction, what we’re doing is giving all students the higher of the score,” she said.

In total, 951 high school seniors were affected by the mistake. Students take the exam their junior year, but there are re-testing opportunities senior year. Seniors who needed the test to graduate were told to take the test by May 6 in order to receive an expedited score.

Pearson delivered a data file to MDE weeks later which contained the scores of roughly 13,000 students. MDE then sent the scores for the 951 seniors included in that data to schools on May 12 so they could be factored in to students’ graduation files. Pearson officials later notified MDE of an error in scoring all 13,000 students’ tests.

Despite the error, 754 of the 951 students still failed the exam and 197 passed. Thirty-six of those students who passed gained an extra point from the mistake, and MDE said Wednesday they will keep them.

Vanderford said when MDE reviewed the data, they learned that 26 of those 36 students likely needed the U.S. History or another state exam to graduate. Ten specifically needed the history exam to receive their diploma, and graduated in error because of the mistake.

“As a result of the error, they earned a passing score that they needed for U.S. history alone, and that’s what allowed them to graduate and receive their diploma,” she said.

MDE will not revoke those diplomas.

“We at the agency always air on the side that benefits the student,” Vanderford said. “We do not want to penalize a student for an adult error.”

Vanderford said neither districts or students, specifically, have been notified about who was included in the mix up. Districts will begin informing students Friday, when preliminary results for all tested subjects are released.

The State Board of Education terminated their roughly $28 million contract with Pearson as a result of the error and approved a one-year emergency contract with Questar to administer the texts for the next school year. A search for a multi-year, more permanent replacement will begin in August.


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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Skinner most recently served as deputy managing editor before assuming the role of managing editor. Kayleigh has a bachelor’s in journalism from the School of Journalism and New Media from the University of Mississippi. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.