05/07/2013 11:56 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

Latest Pearson Problem: Its Test Centers

In a series of Huffington Post blogs I have questioned the role played by Pearson Education, an international conglomerate based in Great Britain, and its subsidies in American education. I want to thank readers who keep sending me Pearson updates.

According to Inside Higher Education, Pearson VUE, which operates a worldwide network of testing centers for various professional exams, "has been experiencing significant technical problems." On Pearson's Facebook page there are a series of complaints, I estimate in the hundreds, from people who were unable to take their scheduled tests because of technical difficulties at Pearson VUE, who never received test results, and who were no able to get information from the company about how and when they would be able to take canceled tests.

Two of the "complaints," actually comments, were especially interesting.

Anonymous wrote:

"For two years, I proctored PearsonVue exams on a fairly regular basis on Friday afternoons. I quickly learned to prepare the testing facility at least four hours in advance so that any problems could hopefully be resolved before the testers arrived. In at least one instance, it took five hours to correct a problem, which delayed the tester by one hour."

Language Prof wrote:

"My students and I no longer bother to send trouble tickets about the numerous problems: many completed exercises that I can't open or correct, corrected exercises the students can't access, recording functions that don't work or that I can't open once the students complete them. Last semester we used to get responses to our complaints, but not this semester."

A detailed complaint by a physician from the Boston area was posted on the Washington Post's blog. He was scheduled to take an examination demonstrating expertise in the treatment of cancer patients and had to cancel a number of appointments to that the test.

"Today, due to a problem with Pearson's central server in Iowa, the test centers could not operate and we were not allowed into the test center for 5 hours after the scheduled time. So we all waited around idle in hallways and lobbies and stairwells, waiting for information, uncertain if we'd be able to take the exam or would have to clear clinical calendars again and reschedule. We were not seated for the exam until early afternoon despite instructions to present to the test site at 730AM. This was not an issue just with the Waltham MA site (where the poor local proctors tried their best to be kind in a difficult situation out of their control), it was a nationwide outage and affected everyone taking exams today, not just physicians taking ABIM exams (though since our exams are long - 6 to 8 hours - and are offered so rarely, it affected us) or at least everyone taking morning exams."

Pearson acknowledged the problems and reported they were trying to fix them.

"We are continuing our efforts to restore normal service as quickly as possible. We are in the midst of implementing recommendations by our internal and external technology experts, but it is too soon to know how quickly this will improve system performance. Please note that there will likely be additional variations in system performance as we implement these changes."

They also almost apologized.

"We fully appreciate that many of you have been significantly impacted by the circumstances over the past several days, and we will increase testing capacity and operational support to accommodate scheduling and/or rescheduling of those affected as quickly as possible once normal system performance is restored."

If these problems were an anomaly, perhaps Pearson could be forgiven this misstep, but they are not. They appear to be standard Pearson practice for a company that is expanding rapidly in an effort to maximize its influence and profits, which were over a billion dollars in 2012 but appear to have stagnated since then. Pearson is the world's largest for-profit education business and administers over forty million tests every year and in 2011 alone scored more than 124 million exams, many of which were not even created by Pearson.

In July 2012 an exasperated Pearson Vue test taker posted on a Cisco blog:

"I took the switch test last week and failed because I was not given enough time to complete the test. The test was interrupted when the test center lost its internet connection for about 15 minutes. When the connection came back, I was led back into the testing room and told the test would start exactly where I left off. The test timer started where I left off, however the actual test went back to a point about 30 minutes prior to where I had left off. I lost 30 minutes of the time allowed for the test. The proctor told me to put in an incident report with Pearson Vue if I were to fail the test because of the lost time. I called Pearson Vue to open an incident report immediately after I failed the test. Pearson told me that I was not allowed, as a test taker, to enter an incident report and that it was the proctor's responsibility. Pearson reluctantly agreed to create an incident report and said that they would contact the proctor and if what I said was true I would get a voucher to retake the test. When I followed up with Pearson on the following Monday, customer service said that nothing has been done as yet but the incident report was scheduled to be complete by Friday (today) and that I would get a call before Friday with the results of the report. I got no such call - so I called today and Pearson had said no action has been taken on the incident; the report contains nothing except my initial complaint and that the proctor has not even been contacted. I just wanted to warn anyone taking a certification test that if there are any problems with the test, to make sure the proctor files an incident report. Do not leave the test center without an incident report number. Also be sure to pay for the test with a credit card so if there is a problem with the test and the provider refuses to do anything, you can dispute the charges with the credit card company."

In an earlier post I identified Pearson "errors" for the last fifteen years. I want to repeat the conclusion to that column. The relationship between New York City, New York State, and Pearson Education must end. Other states and municipalities should reconsider their relationship with Pearson as well. This company and its testing regime have not earned the right to work in American schools.

You can sign a petition to cancel New York State contracts with Pearson at iPetitions and Unitedoptout.

In a related issue, faculty, students, staff and alumni at Teachers College -- Columbia University have started a petition drive demanding that the President of Teachers College, Dr. Susan Fuhrman, step down from Pearson's board of directors and divest all her holdings from the company.