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  • Behind the Scenes of Your Child's Assessment: How Pearson Keeps the Test Running Smoothly

    by LearnEd

    Shot of a bunch of computer screens

    This is the second in a series of stories helping parents understand how their child’s assessments unfold before, during, and after the test. Other stories in this series include: a video about how tests are scored and how the tests are created in the first place.

    story topper-01

    Assessing a Year's Worth of Learning

    smooth operations

    This Spring, millions of children from New Mexico to Minnesota and Indiana to New Jersey, will sit in front of computer screens to take an exam that seeks to measure a year’s worth of learning.

    At the same time, Jim Sherlock’s team will sit down in front of a multitude of screens at a quiet office park in Iowa City, Iowa. Jim is a former educator and one of hundreds of people who work behind the scenes to make sure the technology behind online assessments comes off without a hitch.

    (See a profile of Jim and other team members below. Also below: an infographic about the "Myths and Facts About Assessments.")

    Helpful Measurement

    The results of these tests are important—they tell parents and educators how students are progressing in their education and provide valuable feedback about whether students are on track to earn the skills necessary for a good job and a better life.

    In order to get the best feedback to parents and students, the assessments must run smoothly. That’s where Jim and his Application Performance Management team at Pearson’s Operation Command Center comes in.

    Last spring, Pearson delivered more than 15 million online assessments with no downtime. Even during the spring semester, more than 1.2 million students per day take some form of online tests, from 7:30 am - 5:30 pm EDT.  Ensuring that students have a good testing experience requires a sophisticated network operations center.

    not monitoring

    What Pearson Is Monitoring ...

    The Command Center is a vital step in ensuring the smooth performance of assessments. Even small delays in testing—such as problems logging in or tests not loading properly--can cause major disruptions to a school day and student schedules.

    For the Command Center group, it’s all about system performance on the test, not student performance. In fact, part of the team’s job is ensuring the systems are as secure as possible, so no one can see student information or disrupt testing in any way.

    That’s why the Pearson Performance Management team collects more than 1.5 million metrics every 30 seconds from various servers, applications, and services nationwide. They are monitoring things such as website availability, with more than 800 simultaneous checks running from dozens of testing locations around the country.  They also study server load and bandwidth so thousands of students can test at the same time without overloading the system.

    ... And What Pearson Is Not Monitoring

    But, there is one big thing the team isn’t seeing: individual student data. The team has no way to monitor which students are testing, test scores or any personal information about the students.

    The Command Center staff can tell you the volume of children testing in a state at any given time, but they don’t know a child’s name, a location or how a child scored on the test.  They also don’t monitor social media.

    “We invest more rigor and focus on software development quality than most of our peers,” says Jim Sherlock. “We meet with our computing partners every week, and they love talking with us because we stay on the cutting edge of  application performance management and end-user experience monitoring.”

    Moving Online—and the Cloud

    This year, Pearson estimates it will facilitate millions of online tests around the country. More and more states are moving to online testing because those tests are more engaging for students, they return faster results and better reflect learning in the classroom. For example, in states using the PARCC assessment, a full 90% of students will take the test online this year.

    As more states move to online tests, more of those tests are hosted on the cloud.

    “If you choose to go to the cloud, you need to be even more secure than a brick and mortar environment, ” says Jim Sherlock.

    To achieve an advanced cloud solution that meets testing requirements, the Command Center’s software and customer support team works year-round. The team deploys new features and tests bandwidth and security so that millions of American students can take their tests on time.

    It Takes Hundreds to Test Millions

    From help desk and network monitoring to software development and quality assurance, the Command Center team engages in a wide variety of tasks to provide testing services to students. Meet some of the people making assessments run smoothly every day.

    Jim started at Pearson working the help desk. He says the experience benefits his approach to operations and security, giving him a unique perspective on the two.

    Before his current role, he managed the operations center for 7 years.

    Jim got a Masters in Education, and wanted to teach. He ended up working for the Department of Defense doing network security. When he moved back to Iowa, he merged his love for education and technology by joining the Pearson team.

    Jerry Walling-01

    Jerry certifies that Pearson complies with security requirements. He also makes sure that the assessments are up and running 24/7.

    Jerry is a reservist in the U.S. Army where he serves as a captain. Since he’s been at Pearson, Jerry has been deployed to Afghanistan, Latin America and Korea.

    He’s also a proud owner of a Commodore 64, a computer that dates back to 1982 that he himself made when he was a kid—which you can see in his photograph.


    Vani says working in the tech operations group gives her a great sense of teamwork and collaboration. She says the tech ops team is on the forefront of technology. They are the first to test a new technology, and, once they have a secure use for the tool, they move it out across the system.

    Vani got her electrical engineering degree in India. She came to America to work for a client, General Electric. After a while she got married and had kids. When her husband got a job at Pearson, she moved with him to Iowa and got a job at the same facility. The two work for different teams, but they make sure to see each other every day at lunch.


    Chris is part of the monitoring team in the operations center. He guarantees that all of the systems are running in proper order.

    Chris started with Pearson nine years ago as a test scorer, straight out of the University of Iowa. He got his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering.

    Bin Xiong-01

    Bin ensures new deployments go smoothly by making sure that replication and data flow between databases works seamlessly.

    He enjoys learning the latest technology developments, like cloud-based deployments and open source tools.

    Judah Walker-01

    Judah makes sure apps for the students and teachers using the Pearson online system perform perfectly.

    He likes working at Pearson because of its commitment to quality IT services.

    Judah received a BS in Statistics and Computer Science from the University of Iowa and is currently earning a masters.


    Ashley manages projects across the operations center team. She ensures that teams stay on task and that they are communicating well among themselves—and with clients on the outside.

    Her group focuses on infrastructure to make sure products are ready for customers.



    Our series on assessments:

    Part 1: 5 Steps to Developing Fair and Accurate Tests

    Part II: Behind the Scenes of Your Child's Assessment: How Pearson Keeps the Test Running Smoothly

    Part III: Assessment Series Part III: A video explainer of how Pearson does its assessments.


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  • 5 Steps to Developing Fair and Accurate Tests

    by LearnEd

    Abstract illustration

    This is the first in a series of stories helping parents understand how their child’s assessments unfold before, during, and after the test. Other stories in this series include: more information about how Pearson ensures online security and technical proficiency as well as a video about how Pearson conducts its tests.


    Pop Quiz

    What do you think is the first step in test development?

    Field Tests

    A. Field tests to make sure everything is working properly.

    States Outline

    B. States adopt benchmarks for what students should know.

    Question Development

    C. "Item" or test question development.

    Set up performance standards

    D. Setting performance standards.

    Build the test

    E. Building the test itself.

    States Outline

    If you answered B, you are correct!

    Every test starts first at the state level where legislators and officials outline what every student should know by the end of the year.

    Creating the Test

    With assessment season under way, you might be wondering just what it takes to create a test. Well, we have the answer and it’s in five easy-to-understand steps:

    States Outline

    Step 1: States outline academic standards.

    This is where it all begins.

    States and/or groups of states outline what students should know and be able to do. Known as academic standards, these benchmarks not only determine what a state wants its students to know by the end of the school year—they also set the foundation for instruction in the classroom and the assessment itself.

    Once the academic standards are set, the state determines which testing partner they’d like to provide the tests for their communities. This is where Pearson may come in.

    Question DevelopmentStep 2: "Item" or test question development.

    Pearson experts team up with former or current teachers, professors, Ph.D. professionals and the group puts its experience and knowledge of the subject matter to the test—literally—to create “items.” Items can be multiple-choice questions, interactive technology items, essay prompts, tasks, situation examples, or activities. And each one of them is geared to a state standard.

    Typically, these external experts draft the initial versions of test items, then Pearson experts shepherd the items through a rigorous development process.

    Once the questions are developed, teachers, content experts, higher education faculty and state education leaders review them to ensure the tests are fair, reliable and accurate. It is not uncommon during this review stage that some questions are thrown out.

    Field TestsStep 3: Field tests or "trials."

    Now it’s time for a test run to ensure each question is fair for all.

    Field tests are a part of the process that enables Pearson along with state partners to test items—not the kids. We are testing to see that the questions are worthy of being used to assess skills and knowledge appropriately.

    Students’ scores on field-tests are only used to evaluate the questions—and give all students a level playing field. They are in no way used to calculate a student’s score for the year.

    During a field test, we can also see if gender, ethnicity or even English proficiency have an impact on a child’s ability to successfully perform the task at hand. All of this is done to verify that each and every question is fair.

    A group of teachers and education experts are involved in reviewing the results and making decisions along the way.

    Quite simply put, this stage helps us assess if an item meets expectations or not. If it doesn’t, it’s cut.

    Build the testStep 4: Build the test.

    Once the questions are determined to be fair, free of bias, and that they're assessing what they are intended to asses, the test is put into its final form in print or digitally.

    Easier questions are mixed with more challenging questions. This variety and mix of content helps us understand what a child really knows at the end of the assessment.

    Set up performance standardsStep 5: Setting performance standards.

    In the final step, states and their educators, with expert statistical information provided by Pearson, make decisions about how well students must perform to pass or be proficient on assessments.

    Performance can be defined in many ways, but these “performance standards” provide a frame of reference for interpreting the test scores. This feedback can help students, parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers understand how well a student did by using a category rating.

    That’s how it’s done.

    There is a lot of time (sometimes even years) to make sure this rigorous process is followed closely—all to ensure that tests and assessments are fair and accurate before getting to your kids hands.


    Our series on assessments:

    Part 1: 5 Steps to Developing Fair and Accurate Tests

    Part II: Behind the Scenes of Your Child's Assessment: How Pearson Keeps the Test Running Smoothly

    Part III: Assessment Series Part III: A video explainer of how Pearson does its assessments.

    read more
  • Assessment Series Part III: A Video Explainer of How Pearson Does Its Assessments

    by LearnEd

    Arty shot of a man

    This is the third in a series of stories helping parents understand how their child’s assessments unfold before, during, and after the test. Other stories in this series include: how assessments are developed from scratch and how Pearson ensures security and agility in its online scoring systems.

    How does Pearson do it? An Explainer

    We've shared this video before and wanted to post it again for this series about assessments.


    Our series on assessments:

    Part 1: 5 Steps to Developing Fair and Accurate Tests

    Part II: Behind the Scenes of Your Child's Assessment: How Pearson Keeps the Test Running Smoothly

    Part III: Assessment Series Part III: A video explainer of how Pearson does its assessments.


    read more
  • Pi Day Learning: Collages, Play Dough, and Number Books

    by LearnEd

    Abstract illustration

    From our Project Literacy partners at the Parent-Child Home Program, 3 number games to play with your kids for Pi Day, Monday—3/14:

    Shape CollageMaking collages is a great way to support early math development.

    Cutting out paper shapes with your child provides opportunities to count the number of sides on each shape.
    It helps them become more familiar with number names and early-stage counting.


    You can help your child think about how the pieces fit together, similar to the way you might approach puzzles—or ask them how various shapes are similar and different.

    Cutting out shapes, manipulating small pieces, and gluing will also help support your child’s fine motor skills.

    play dough

    Who doesn't love play dough? Plus—making it—opens a door to sensory play and learning.

    You and your child can practice math skills by counting the steps in the recipe, measuring ingredients, and discussing the concept of part(s) versus whole.  Challenge your child to make familiar shapes with the play dough and compare sizes, introducing the concept of big versus small.

    big small

    Creating and manipulating the dough will strengthen your child’s fingers and enhance fine motor development, essential to school readiness.

    number book

    Helping your child create a 0-10 booklet is a fun and engaging way to develop early numeracy skills.

    Each page of the booklet features a number, with a corresponding amount of items glued to the page.  Once your child becomes familiar with larger numbers, you can add on!

    As you glue and fill out each page, invite your child to count items and practice recognizing the names of each number in a way that helps them become familiar with numbers.


    The Parent-Child Home Program’s (PCHP) nationwide network of program sites provides low-income families with the necessary skills and tools to ensure their children achieve their greatest potential in school and in life. Together we are strengthening families and communities, and preparing the workforce of the future.

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