updated 11/19/2007 6:50:48 PM ET 2007-11-19T23:50:48

The reading scores of U.S. students on an international test are being tossed out due to a problem with how the test was printed, federal officials said Monday.

Scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, are due out next month. Fifteen-year-olds in more than 50 countries took the test. It focused on science this time but also included math and reading questions.

Only the reading portion is being set aside, and only for U.S. students, said Mark Schneider, Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.

The problem has to do with a printing error made by North Carolina-based RTI International, the federal contractor hired to administer the U.S. version of the test.

The printing mistake made the test confusing by telling students to view the "opposite" page, though the information was not found there.

Schneider said the test was taken in the fall of last year, but the problem was not discovered until this past summer when the test results were being analyzed. That is despite the fact that a printed copy of the test had been sent to U.S. and international officials, Schneider said.

"There's a lot of shared culpability," Schneider said, calling the incident "an embarrassment."

Test company apologizes
Schneider said the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs the test, decided last month that the U.S. scores should be tossed out because they were invalid.

"We deeply regret that this happened," said RTI spokesman Patrick Gibbons. RTI project manager Patricia Green said the company has subsequently stepped-up its review of tests.

In addition, the company has reimbursed the government $500,000, Schneider said.

He added that this was the first time an error like this had resulted in invalid U.S. scores on the PISA exam or on similar international tests.

In the mid-’80s, he said, the results of a national test were deemed invalid because different versions of the test were given to students. In that case, different colors and different printing styles seemed to affect scores.

Kids are increasingly taking standardized tests, and Schneider said the testing industry is stretched and in need of more people who can design and analyze exams.

However, in this case, he said the error was a simple but troubling copy-editing problem.

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