Florida's FCAT scandal -- the next chapter
Let’s go to Florida for the latest entry in the category of “you can’t make up this stuff.” Here's the latest twist in the scandal over the state's 2010 standardized test scores.
When school district superintendents complained to state officials that there were anomalies in the scores of the 2010 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which had been implemented by NCS Pearson, the Florida Education Department said it had faith in the results but would get outside reviews anyway.
So who is doing the reviews?
One of the two outside groups is the Virginia-based Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO, which, it turns out, is a subcontractor on NCS Pearson’s $254 million contract with Florida to administer the FCAT.
HumRRO doesn’t see a problem.
"We don’t see it as a conflict of interest," Suzanne Tsacoumis, vice president for educational assessment, was quoted as saying by the St. Petersburg Times. "I can guarantee you we would only say the truth."
And state officials said they expect the company to report directly to the Education Department and carry out the review in an independent manner.
But some of the school superintendents who had complained about the scores are worried: "We absolutely are concerned about that," Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia was quoted as saying by the Times. "Our whole purpose in asking for a third-party review is that it’s not someone who has an allegiance to anybody."
Early in the week, she and leaders from a handful of other big school districts in Florida, including Miami-Dade and Broward, asked Education Commissioner Eric Smith to get an independent review of the results of the 2010 FCAT.
After their formal complaint, other school districts started complaining, too, and now the Miami Herald reports that nearly half of the state’s districts have expressed concerns, many of them about declining learning gains that appear to be statistically unlikely.
NCS Pearson was already in trouble with Florida for a long delay in results that prompted the state to fine the company at least $3 million.
HumRRO is being asked to study the learning gains made by the lowest 25 percent of students, focusing on scores from the reading and math exams given to elementary-school students between 2008 and 2010.
And the Florida Education Department is contracting with the nonprofit National Center for the Improvement of the Educational Assessment to look at the design, scale and scoring of the reading and math elementary school-level exams from 2007 through 2010.
Why does this matter? Florida school districts use the FCAT scores for just about everything, including grading schools, placing teachers and principals, program placement and more. Planning for next year is already delayed, but the bigger problem is that somehow these scores have become imbued with an importance they don't deserve.
Even if it turns out that the 2010 FCAT tests were scored properly, the results shouldn't be used for any high-stakes decision, because no single test ever should be. This scandal only underlies how perverted our education accountability systems have become.
So why is it that all we hear today are attacks on teachers? Where are all the critics who are quick to scapegoat teachers but won't look at our phony accountability schemes?
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| July 15, 2010; 11:02 AM ET
Categories: Standardized Tests | Tags: FCAT, eric smith, florida comprehensive assessment test, florida education department, ncs pearson, pearson and fcats, problems with fcats, standardized tests
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