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Settlement reached in test score lawsuit
The test scoring company that mishandled thousands of Minnesota high school exams has agreed to pay $7 million in damages to affected students and their families. The settlement comes more than two years after state education officials uncovered the errors, and just days before a class action lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial.

St. Paul, Minn. — The state Department of Children, Families and Learning discovered in July 2000 that scoring errors had been made on the state Basic Standards Test in math, which 47,000 students had taken earlier that year. The company responsible for the exams, NCS Pearson, had incorrectly scored six questions on one version of the test. Nearly 8,000 Minnesota students were told they failed, when they actually passed, and some seniors were wrongly denied diplomas. Joe Snodgrass, a lawyer representing the affected students, says he's pleased the class action lawsuit was settled out of court.

"This was an unprecedented case, Snodgrass said. "No one had really done this type of a lawsuit before involving high stakes testing and a private testing company and so many people. And there was no clear path on how to proceed and how to resolve this case."

Officials with the test company admitted their mistakes two years ago and promised to take corrective action. They reimbursed CFL and local school districts for costs related to the scoring errors and gave a $1,000 post-secondary tuition reimbursement to about a dozen affected seniors. The lawsuit settlement provides up to $7 million for additional compensation to students and their families for actual damages. The payments will range from a minimum of $362.50 up to $16,000 dollars for those students excluded from high school commencement or who dropped out.

Lindsay Arthur, a lawyer representing NCS Pearson, says there are few students who'll get $16,000 dollars. "Of all of the 7,900 students I think there's only five of six that would even qualify for that amount," Arthur said. "The vast majority of students, if they qualify for anything, will get the $300 figure that is referenced. And I think a large number of students won't even qualify for that."

One former student who's counting on the $16,000 is Jacob Plumley, 21, of St. Paul. Plumley was told he'd failed the required state math test when he'd actually passed. The bogus score kept him from participating in his graduation at Harding High School. Plumley says the lawsuit made a difference.

"I believe that it's important for the fact that, just so all these testing companies, let it be a lesson to them, so they can learn off of it, so no other kids like myself go through something like this again," Plumley said.

Affected students and their families will receive letters about the settlement in the coming days. Plumley's lawyer, Joe Snodgrass, says the lawsuit has helped shed some light on the negative consequences of high stakes tests. He says the case will continue to have an impact as testing requirements keep expanding.

"The federal government, state governments are more and more getting into high stakes testing, tests that determine whether or not somebody moves up a grade level or has to go to summer school or gets to graduate from high school, etc.," Snodgrass said. "And what happens when those tests are graded incorrectly is something that more and more courts are going to have to look to."

The company's lawyer Lindsay Arthur says an otherwise embarrassing incident has helped NCS Pearson improve its quality control measures to prevent further scoring errors. But he questions whether the lawsuit has benefited the testing industry.

"I think that the testing industry is potentially at risk for further litigation as a result of scoring errors. I think that it's a very high-risk industry," Arthur said. "I'm not sure that this case is going to be good for testing at any point."

NCS Pearson is no longer scoring the tests required in all Minnesota schools. State education officials ended the relationship last spring by awarding the test contract to Maple Grove-based Data Recognition Corporation.

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