Britain Fires U.S. Testing Firm for Massive Scoring Errors

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, March 2009

In the latest in a series of high-profile standardized exam administration scandals, the government of the United Kingdom (U.K) has severed its $330 million, five-year contract with the U.S.-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) to assess more than a million public school students. The move came after ETS failed to produce timely or accurate scores because of a series of foul-ups the British media labeled an “Exams Fiasco.” In the U.S., ETS produces the SAT college admissions test, the Graduate Record Exam, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), licensing exams for many occupations including teaching, and several state K-12 tests.

Among the major concerns cited in terminating ETS’ U.K contract were thousands of lost answer sheets, erroneously calculated scores, and the apparent hiring of cocktail waitresses and bartenders to mark a backlog of exams at hotels which had been transformed into emergency grading centers. The escalating series of problems led to a heated Parliamentary inquiry from which the Liberal Democratic Party schools spokeswoman concluded, “ETS demonstrated pure incompetence when it came to marking this year’s [tests].” In the aftermath of the controversy, the government agency head responsible for supervising ETS was forced to resign. Besides losing hundreds of millions from the four years remaining on its contract, ETS had to return $27.5 million to the British government and pay an additional $8.5 million in fines.

As British Conservative Party education spokesman Michael Gove charged, “ETS had a long history of international failure before they were signed up by this government. . .”  Earlier this decade, the firm lost the contract to administer the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) after a series of errors, including the failure to notify nearly 1,000 business school applicants that their scores were miscalculated for more than ten months (see Examiner, January 2005).  In 2006, ETS agreed to pay more than $11 million to 4,100 prospective teachers who were falsely told they had failed the PRAXIS licensing exam due to scoring errors (see Examiner, May, 2006).