Pointing Out the Fly in Pearson's Soup #ok #oklahoma @pearson

Has Pearson told anyone else that they need to put a windows firewall exception in a firewall service that is turned off?  Seems to me that if the firewall is OFF then the service should not block anything. (Source: Email from Technology Director in Oklahoma)

Oklahoma Technology Directors are fuming about Pearson's responses to testing. It's not unusual to hear these kinds of complaints from Technology Directors in Texas, but Oklahoma folks are also finding the experience problematic.

Some might ask, Why share this? The answer is simple and straightforward--if we fail to point out how large companies are unresponsive, or slow to answer, questions for behemoth, enterprise level assessment systems State Education Agencies are purchasing, we do the people ultimately served by these tests a profound dis-service. If one believes high-stakes tests are a fad that should be ended, one still has to acknowledge that failing to share stories of success and failure in using services like Pearson's set us up for more problems in the long-run. "Sunshine," as Justice Brandeis said, "makes the best disinfectant."

I find it utterly inconceivable that we would spend the kind of money we are spending on these assessments and get the kind of service we are getting from Pearson. I find it even more alarming that they apparently have no understanding of cyber security. A few points, then I'll give Scott his soapbox back: 

1. Every time we call tech support, we must go through a ridiculous process of getting to level 2 because the level 1 techs seem have no idea what to do with people using Mac OS X. Then when we get to level 2, we have to explain how UNIX permissions work to the non-Mac OS X person until he or she decides to find the Mac OS X familiar support specialist and transfer us or have that person call us back. When we finally do get that person, more often than not he or she is just what I said, "familiar with Mac OS X." To be sure there have been a couple of times we've gotten some decent suggestions, but not usually. On top of that, we usually poke at enough of the options we think could help enough that we have a better solution than they do by the time they call us back. It could be helpful for us if, when we get the first person on the line we could say, "Mac OS X," and immediately be shunted to at least on of the familiar techs. 
2. Almost every time we call tech support, the first response is either that our firewall is blocking something or we need to give everyone full permissions to something (usually everything). A) We have NEVER had to make modifications to our firewall to make it work. I think I am pretty adept at managing both of our firewalls and our content filter. Every time Pearson releases the specs in the fall, they make a big deal out of telling us to whitelist a list of sites and IP addresses. The thing is, none of those are blocked by our policies to begin with. The one thing we have had to check is the port, but that has not caused us any problems either. B) It seems to me that if they understood how to configure the permissions properly (either UNIX or ACLs), there would be less need to completely turn off anything that MIGHT possibly use system resources during the test. It is UNACCEPTABLE to disable anti-virus and anti-malware. Given the cyber war we are not fighting, according to the feds, we cannot afford the possibility that we are compromised. 
3. I understand that Pearson and the SDE would want to prevent cheating and prevent recording of the test items. This is completely appropriate for them. However, it also seems to me that given the massive amounts of money spent on student assessment (by Oklahoma and other states), they could invest in programmers who can make this far less intrusive for us and far more secure without having to go to the extraordinary lengths they require. It might also behoove them to liaise with the major anti-virus and next-generation firewall makers to help produce a signature profile for their software which would allow antivirus or firewalls to realize that it is not a threat. Furthermore, they could in turn build in logic that would recognize the difference between, say, antivirus software and screen recording software or other browser software. 

This process has become a fiasco. Students are generally not interested in the assessment process or nervous about it to begin. Having to invalidate tests and have then start and stop or go through some traumatic (to them) experience while trying to take a test makes the entire process suspect to say the least. What kind of nightmare is this going to be when we have to do it 4 times per year for kids from grade 3 on up? As an educator, I understand the value of assessments, both formative and summative, norm referenced and criterion referenced, formal and informal. 
The problem we seem to have is that we have begun to believe that if we assess more we will get better results. The only way that will work is if it scares enough of the the poor teachers into becoming better teachers or scares enough kids and parents into becoming better students and parents. The likelihood of that is about negative 50%. If, on the other hand, we would invest in making sure we have the best teachers we can get, in trying to impact the communities from which our kids come to increase the value of a good education, and in more efficient and meaningful assessment processes, we may actually be able to improve public education.
and more feedback....

The only thing that had to change was Pearson's testing client.  They, Jason and Larry, told us that there had been zero change to the testing client.  When pushed further about the change because of a revision change, we were told that the only change that was made was for flash enabled testing material directly related to some of their math content.
We were told that we had to have all popups turned off, that included balloon tips, system notifications, antivirus, dvd software, java updates, flash updates, windows updates, etc.  One of the school districts went as far as removing the antivirus from their computers to prevent the antivirus from popping up.  The same district also included as part of their logon script pskill explorer.exe and ran TestNav.  This allowed nothing but the TestNav client to load.  This district also experienced problems under this environment.
We run DeepFreeze on all of our student computers with zero maintenance time.  Our computers have not changed since they were refreshed summer before last.  The only thing we did was update TestNav on the file server that all machines at each site access it from.  Our Geometry test went HORRIBLE.  It got so bad that we were forced to invalidate the test results.  This forces the student to retake this test.
Myself, I don't understand how a vendor can dictate to the state and school districts what they have to do to their computers to run their software.  There should be logic in their program to maintain focus of the computer and force everything else to the background.  Instead the route is to detect a popup (transparent window or not) and force the student to log out, the test administrator to resume the student and have the student log back in.
At what point are we going to say enough is enough?  There is increasing pressure upon teachers for high test scores.  There is increasing pressure on the students to do well.  All of this in turn puts more pressure on us with an ever shrinking budget.  Do more with less... How many times have you heard that?  But the cost of everything has increased.  I can't even maintain what we had last year for the same price.
Pearson, are you listening? And, State Education Agencies, are you listening? And, before you say we just have to make it work....

As soon as you say, “failure is not an option,” you’ve just said, “innovation is not an option.” 
-Seth Godin

Source: http://investing-school.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/coin-flip.jpg

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Anonymous said…
It appears that Pearson is incompetent from top to bottom. Two examples: last year I took a Certification test in Florida. The test center is administered by Pearson. The administrator of the center was incredibly rude, the test room was very noisy and had roaches crawling all over the computer and desk. And we should not forget last year's fiasco in Florida. FCAT (State's Standardized Test) scores release was delayed, at the end of the school year the test scores were not available, affecting summer school, teacher appointments, etc.

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