On November 19, officials from the National Center for Educational Statistics announced that the United States’ reading scores on the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) had been invalidated because of an error in the printing of the test. The other results from PISA, which tests fifteen-year-olds in fifty-seven countries in mathematics, science, and reading literacy, are still scheduled to be released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on December 4.
The error occurred because of a printing problem by RTI International, the firm with which the U.S. Department of Education contracted to administer the test. Originally, students who opened the test booklets were supposed to find a reading passage on the left page and a series of questions related to it on the right page. However, in printing the test booklets, RTI International noticed that the color from the cover of the test booklet bled through the first sheet. As a result, it decided to begin the test on the first right-hand page. Students opening the booklets were instructed to answer questions related to a story or passage on the “opposite page.” Because of the new layout, those directions were incorrect.
Mark S. Schneider, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees U.S. participation in the exam, called the printing error a “major loss for the study” and an “embarrassment” to everyone involved.
Upon learning of the printing error, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, urged the U.S. Department of Education to readminister the test to U.S. students. Wise called the printing error printing error “both understandable and distressing,” but said that accurate reading results were “particularly critical” considering that Congress is considering changes to the No Child Left Behind Act.
“Since this international examination is administered only once every three years, new PISA data about how U.S. students are faring internationally in reading will not be available until 2010 at the earliest, unless a means is found to administer the most recent test again,” he wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). “Having the most recent PISA reading performance data would permit policymakers and educators to evaluate efforts in the United States and in countries throughout the world much more thoroughly to determine what is, and is not, working to improve reading performance.”
Wise said that fewer than 6,000 U.S. students participated in the full PISA exam and added that RTI International should be willing to develop a new sample and to readminister the reading section of the test. “I urge you to explore every avenue to see whether this important international measurement of our middle and high school students’ reading performance can be accomplished,” he concluded.
In response, Bruce Friedland, a spokesman for the IES, said that his agency and the department would give “careful consideration” to the request, but that no decision had been made.
Governor Wise’s complete letter is available here
The complete chart is available at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/8/39700724.pdf.