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Posted at 3:15 PM ET, 06/ 7/2010

Standardized testing follies in Florida

By Valerie Strauss

Let’s add this to the list of reasons why standardized test results should not be considered for any high-stakes decision involving students, teachers, administrators, and well, everybody:

From the Miami Herald, we learn that NCS Pearson, part of the largest education company in the world, is having trouble scoring the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Many results have been delayed for six weeks, the newspaper said, making it difficult for school districts to design summer school reading programs. The delay is even affecting staffing decisions for next fall, which, unfortunately, are made with the use of test data.

There’s another part to the story, too: As a cost-cutting measure, the state of Florida, which contracted with Pearson to administer and score the statewide annual FCAT for $254 million, opted to pay for only one grader to handle student-written essays.

Historically two graders are used, and the two grades are then averaged. The people hired to grade can assign whole numbers from 1 to 6, and a 3.5 is needed to pass the test. But with one grader, the system doesn’t quite work, the Herald notes, and it quotes Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho as saying: “There is something critically flawed with having a proficiency level that is impossible to attain.”

The paper cites the state Department of Education memos and South Florida school districts as reporting numerous problems with Pearson’s administration of the test:
• Pearson subcontractor failed to properly deliver testing materials to some schools.
• Pearson is weeks behind in delivering the bulk of student scores to local school districts. The state Department of Education said some of its student databases weren’t compatible with Pearson’s databases.
• Pearson had problems with test runs of the state’s new computerized end-of-year assessments; many kids who took part were kicked off the system or not allowed to log in.

The Herald said a Pearson spokesman could not be reached for comment. I asked Pearson for a comment and will add it when I hear from a company spokesman.

I have written frequently about the dangers of using standardized test results for any serious decision in education because of the many problems associated with their development, administration and scoring.

Some months ago, I asked Todd S. Farley, who worked for years in the standardized testing industry and wrote the book, “Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry,” to write about his experiences, and I published his post. Here are some of his comments:

“While I did enjoy the career (good money, nice people, fun trips), it also left me completely convinced of the utter folly of entrusting decisions about American students, teachers, and schools to the for-profit industry that long employed me. I don’t know how anyone who’s seen what I’ve seen could feel any differently ...

“I’m not even talking about the well-publicized disasters that have occurred in recent years, when mis-scored tests kept students from getting into their preferred colleges (SAT, 2006); kept teachers from earning their deserved certifications (Praxis, 2004); and kept teenagers from graduating high school when they should have (Minnesota state assessment, 2000).

“Any Google search will result in many similar testing tragedies, but I’d say the scandals that make the news are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, I’d say there aren’t scoring problems on some standardized tests — my experience suggests there are scoring problems on all of them.

"Multiple-choice tests can be scored easily by machines, but constructed-response items (short-answer questions, essay questions) that students answer in their own words need to be read and scored by humans, which is where I think it all goes to hell. From my experience, that human scoring of tens of millions of student tests every year goes to hell for five main reasons:

"The tests get scored each year by a motley crew of temporary employees earning low hourly wages, and while many of those people are earnest and conscientious employees, many others are not ... "

You can read the rest here:

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 7, 2010; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  Standardized Tests  | Tags:  FCAT problems, florida comprehensive assessment tests, pearson and FCAT, pearson and testing, problems scoring FCAT, standardized testing, standardized tests and florida, the miami herald and testing  
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Oh dear. Sounds bad. Well, these companies sound like they are making a lot of money. How are their stocks doing these days? Maybe we should all invest. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Those companies do very well.

And no, don't join 'em. Fight 'em.

Posted by: tfteacher | June 7, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

And you can bet Pearson is already gearing up to roll out tests aligned with the common core. Good time to invest if you've got a little spare cash.

Posted by: dz159 | June 7, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Soon enough it won't be humans grading essays but computers using algorithms (it's not that far away)... can't wait to see how people react to that.

Posted by: Mccrabster | June 7, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

tfteacher, Montgomery County is poised to 'join 'em' in a few hours when the MoCo Board of Education will (I predict) vote unanimously in favor of a contract between Pearson and MCPS in which our taxpayer dollar funded logos, marks, etc., will be given to Pearson to use; our children will be used to 'fieldtest/validate' new curricula; and our taxpayer-funded staff will be required to travel nationwide to 'market' the Pearson/MCPS developed curricula.

To read the entire Weast memo and proposed contract, on which the BOE will vote today, go to

Posted by: freestategal | June 8, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Another fail ure by private, for-profit education testing. No surprise, but why continue the madness? Answer: Money talks and for-profit corporations (like the Post via Kaplan Education) stand to make a lot of it. All it costs us is a decent education of our children.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 8, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

numbers and money, that is what students are now. I think FCAT exams should be invalidated in florida, in order to stop this companies from directing education, and taking the millions of dollars that should be spend it in the classrooms.
This no child left behind law, and race to the top are destroying the fun of teaching and learning. TESTING IS NOT TEACHING
and if we add , that the testing companies are not reliable any more, we cannot trust them, with such a failure in many different states

Posted by: siritilent | June 8, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

And to think..just a few months ago, the Florida legislature, per SB6, wanted to use these scores to hold 50% of our salary hostage. What a joke. They BETTER not even entertain the notion of coming up with something like that next year. Go find another group to pick on next year.

Posted by: veteranteacher1 | June 8, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for always telling the truth, Valerie. I am surprised that no one at WAPO is preventing you from being truthful.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 9, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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