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Posted at 11:12 AM ET, 06/11/2010

Florida education chief ‘outraged’ at Pearson

By Valerie Strauss

Florida’s Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith has blasted NCS Pearson for a big delay in the reporting of the results of the 2010 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, saying that he is “outraged” and calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”

Earlier this week I wrote about how the delay is making it difficult for school districts to design summer school reading programs as well as make staffing decisions for next fall.

Also this week, Pearson entered into an agreement with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland in which the huge education publishing company will pay MCPS $2.25 million to develop new curriculum that Pearson can then market as coming from the high-achieving school district. You can read about that here.

Florida education officials are not amused with Pearson, which has a $254 million contract with the state on the FCAT.

Smith made a tough statement, and the state’s chancellor, Frances Haithcock, sent a letter to school district superintendents blaming the delay on Pearson’s database technology. She said that Pearson will reimburse school districts for any expenses incurred related to the mailing of individual student reports to each student’s parent or guardian after school is over.

Here are both documents:

The official statement issued by Smith:

Regarding delays in the reporting of 2010 FCAT results

*The lack of performance by the state’s new testing contractor, NCS Pearson, is absolutely unacceptable, and the delays we have encountered in the reporting of this year’s FCAT results are not indicative of the smooth, expertly-managed experience they promised as a part of the contract procurement process.

*I would like to extend my most sincere apologies to our parents who rely on the timely reporting of this information to determine the appropriate educational services for their child. I would also like to apologize to our educators and school administrators who need this information to ensure every student is receiving the kind of support and assistance they need to be successful. Please be assured that the Department’s focus remains on the integrity and accuracy of the students’ scores that are issued, and although delayed, these results will uphold the same level of quality and reliability that our stakeholders rely upon.

*I am both outraged and frustrated by the situation Pearson has caused and I do not intend to allow these inexcusable delays to go unanswered. In addition to demanding that Pearson ensure all future test administrations are absent of the technology issues we have experienced this year, I also intend to impose significant financial penalties as a result of their failure to meet contract deadlines.

*I truly appreciate the overwhelming amount of patience that has been shown throughout our communities as we continue to work with Pearson around-the-clock to release these scores as soon as possible.

And here’s the letter from Chancellor Frances Haithcock, division of public schools, Florida Department of Education

Dear Superintendents:
This year’s release of FCAT results has varied greatly from years past and I know the delays in the reporting of student scores have caused issues for many of you locally. Please know that I understand your frustrations and concerns and that I remain intently involved in concluding this year’s reporting in a successful and reliable manner.

Let me state first and foremost that the results you have received, and the results you will receive in the coming weeks, are and will be both accurate and reliable. This will be the case for all grades and all subjects tested. The issues we are experiencing with our new contractor, Pearson, are not related to the scoring process, which has gone very smoothly. As part of our normal protocol, we have completed validation measures to ensure complete accuracy and, in addition, we have utilized the services of a third-party scoring and equating organization, The Buros Institute. The Department has contracted with Buros to review and validate reading, mathematics and science FCAT scoring since 2007. We expanded their audit scope this year to encompass writing due to planned changes in the writing tests. Buros’ complete, independent evaluation of the 2010 FCAT scoring process has resulted in additional verification of the accuracy of this year’s results. Buros will provide a full report summarizing these findings which is expected later this summer.

However, despite confidence in this year’s results, I am sure you remain curious about the cause of the delays we have been experiencing. These difficulties are directly related to Pearson’s database technology, which handles student demographic information.

Florida’s assessment process involves a great number of validation procedures, beyond the validation of students’ scores, which are designed to ensure that information in each student’s assessment record is complete and accurate. During the scanning and scoring process, database files are created by the contractor from the tests received from school districts. These files are matched against a Pre-Identification file, which contains student information reported to the contractor directly from districts prior to the testing administration. The student information contained in the test results files must match up perfectly with each district’s Pre-Identification file so that you can seamlessly integrate the test results into your student information database. It is in this file matching that our delays are occurring. Each apparent mismatch must be researched, resolved and rechecked in order to ensure accuracy. While this checking and rechecking process is clearly outlined in Pearson’s scope of work, internal systems issues within their database are causing delays in the resolution of these matches.

Additionally, I realize that you may have particular concerns with this year’s FCAT Writing results as they have been delayed the longest. The extended delay on these scores is the result of the additional validation review by Buros and the database issues mentioned above. Again, we remain fully confident in the results of this FCAT Writing administration.

I am also aware that some of you remain apprehensive about how the FCAT writing results will translate into the school grading formula. Due to the testing administration change from two essay scorers to one, a score of 3.5 is no longer possible, which necessitates a slight change in grade calculations. As previously communicated, in order to lessen the impact of this change for this year we will use the average of the percent of students who scored 3.0 and above and the percent of students who scored 4.0 and above as the measure for writing in school grades. Following this year we will then transition to using scores of 4.0 and above in keeping with our continued drive toward increased performance of our schools.

I know this process has been very stressful for each of you as you respond to concerns from within your communities and work to restructure local administrative functions to align with these delays. However, as I know you all will agree accuracy must at all times trump expediency, especially given the importance of these results. For this reason, the remaining releases of FCAT reading, mathematics, science and writing results are likely to be delayed until the end of June. We will inform you as soon as possible once reliable projected dates are available.

With this in mind, Spring 2010 FCAT individual student reports will not be available for distribution prior to end of the school year; Pearson will reimburse school districts for any expenses incurred related to the mailing of these individual student reports to each student’s parent or guardian.

Please be assured that we continue to address these issues with Pearson and, following the completion of the reporting of results, I fully intend to take action that will ensure the contractor-related problems experienced this year are not repeated in the future.

You have been patient beyond measure and I appreciate your continued support as we work through these delays to the ultimate conclusion of a successful 2010 FCAT administration. Should you have any additional concerns or would like to discuss further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Chancellor Frances Haithcock Division of Public Schools Florida Department of Education

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 11, 2010; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  Standardized Tests  | Tags:  delay in test scores, fcat, florida comprehensive assessment test, pearson and florida  
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Next: New controversy at Rhode Island school



Look at this: Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper With Tests

Posted by: jlp19 | June 11, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

From the link above:

Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 11, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

There was an investigation (led by Deborah Gist?) into excessive erasures on the DC-CAS last year.
Nothing was done.

Posted by: edlharris | June 11, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

So - who is holding Gist accountable? Or is it just lower level personnel that have to be accountable.

Posted by: aby1 | June 11, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

For those unfamiliar with the FCAT, it makes children accountable for tested reading skills when they reach the age of eight or 9-years-old. If a child fails to meet the test standards—that child is severely punished. The child is publically humiliated! The child is forced to repeat the third grade while classmates move ahead to the forth grade. The architects of the FCAT believe that holding these children up to shame and ridicule will become an incentive to master the tested reading skills and there is little doubt the approach does increase the pressure on the little ones.

Several years now of administering the test indicate that children living in poverty feel the lion’s share of the FCAT's punitive force. Because a disproportionate number of poor children are African-American and Hispanic and recent immigrants, something the educational bureaucracy calls "the achievement gap" is now all the rage. However, those bureaucrats are adamant that poverty will not be used as an excuse. The children must be punished, they must be held accountable!

The moment of accountability has now arrived for Commissioner Eric Smith and NCS Pearson. Watch them scurry away like the cowardly child abusing excuse makers that they are.

Posted by: natturner | June 11, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

No one would hold Gist accountable, because no one wants to find out the truth. The scuttlebutt is that the erasure rates at the 10 biggest gaining schools was 8-9 times higher then all other DCPS schools.

Despite that, the test company and DCPS continue to deny that anything was amiss.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | June 11, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

The FCAT assessment is the same as Virginia's SOL test. All states have required, high-stakes testing under NCLB. Our school was forced to do all online SOL testing in spring 2009 and again this spring. (I suppose there were suspicions of cheating??) When students are tested online, the scores IMMEDIATELY come back to the screen, and to the VDOE and central office screens of whoever has the passwords and the authority to monitor. But apparently, the SOL tests for students with disabilities had to go through some complicated checking routine which delayed scores being released just for swd. The score is the score, folks! The reason for the delay was complicated, fabricated b/s that was hilariously transparent (called C-H-E-A-T-I-N-G) and even well-intentioned teachers fell for the district's reasoning!

Also, our 4th grade teachers told students last year that if they did not pass their SOLs they would have to repeat 4th grade. Of course, this is a LIE! The SOLs are the SCHOOL's test! They are abusing kids telling them these lies which traumatize them. This is in Virginia! Just today, I spoke with a parent from another (small) district in Virginia who told me her son's 4th grade teacher told the class the same thing. When a school's scores are low, I believe this is the principal's doing. Many principals are not instructional leaders, and they abuse teachers. They treat teachers in unprofessional manner. Teachers are afraid to tell the public what is going on, but we need to speak out on behalf of abused teachers. How can teachers teach when they are traumatized by their principal? I wish Virginia would say good-bye to NCLB and give up the federal "bribe" dollars!

Posted by: concerned36 | June 11, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

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