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FCAT Scores, A Month Late, to Be Released After Untold Damage to Schools

| June 25, 2010

It was another one of those for Florida, with equally lousy results.

More than a month late, and too late for school districts to properly address remediation issues for many students and staffing for many schools ahead of the coming school year, the Florida Department of Education announced Friday that FCAT scores for 4th through 11th graders will finally be released beginning on Monday evening.

That’s school-wide and district-wide scores. Parents will have to wait still longer, possibly a week, to get their individual children’s scores.

The department announced the release in a backhanded way, as a second thought to its flashier announcement of a “new website” launch focused on FCAT issues. The department’s news release doesn’t mention scores until the last sentence of the fifth paragraph, an indication of the department’s own oblique priorities as the latest of Pearson’s many testing scandals has unfolded.

The first batch of scores–district-wide and school-by-school results in grades 4 through 10 in reading and math, grades 5,8 and 11 science, and grades 4, 8 and 10 writing–will be released at 7 p.m. Monday, but only to school districts.

On Tuesday, statewide results and state reports of each district, presumably including grades assigned to each school, will be released.

So far only 3rd grade reading and math scores were released (on May 27) as well as 11th and 12th grade reading and math re-takes on May 20.

The delay will cost local districts more money as some will have to add more staffing to handle results and place students in appropriate classes by fall. The education department has fined Pearson $3 million based on May’s late scores, and will levy additional fines following this month’s late scores.

The department and the testing company, Iowa-based Pearson, have told conflicting stories to explain the delay. They’ve attributed it to a problem matching students’ demographic information from the state’s database with Pearson’s test-score information on one hand, while Education Commissioner Eric Smith has blamed Pearson for using “untested” methods on the other.

“Extra time was needed this year to ensure each individual student’s results match up perfectly with their demographic information,” the education department said on Friday. It is a garbled way of saying that the test results couldn’t be matched with who took them, and had to be retallied. More garbled and jargon-ridden explanations posted at the department’s site aside, it’s still unclear how Pearson and the Department of Education have ensured that the test results are as accurately matched to their takers as they should be. The process, including the scoring, is notoriously secret, ostensibly to protect trade secrets, but just as likely to shield the company from broader accountability.

Pearson claims the scoring itself was never an issue. But it was: This year Pearson, in a further degradation of the test’s credibility, used only one scorer, or “rater,” instead of two for each test. (It’s cheaper for the company, and therefore more lucrative, to do so. Pearson is paid $50 million a year to handle just the scoring portion of the test. It got a $254 million contract in 2009, running through 2013.) The scores should have been released sooner, not later, with half as many scorers handling tests.

The Florida Department of Education itself has been busy spinning its own yarns.

“FCAT results for reading, mathematics, writing and science are typically reported between mid-April and mid-June.” In 2009, however, the Department of Education released reading and writing scores on May 28. in 2008, it released them almost a month earlier, on May 8. And in 2007 it released them on May 23. There were no science scores to release back then. And this year, according to the department’s own FAQ on FCAT scores, “all scores were scheduled to be delivered to districts by May 21, 2010.” To this day, in other words, the Department of Education is devoting considerable energy on spinning the biggest FCAT scandal in the high-stakes test’s decade-old history. And it’s not suggested that Pearson should be fired despite the company’s shoddy history in Florida and elsewhere.

Pearson has a history of delays and using unproven and untested methods (that is, cost-cutting methods). “Pearson was the company responsible for the 2005 mishap with the SAT, when thousands of college-bound students got mistakenly low scores,” the Orlando Sentinel reported this month. “In 2000, it also was late returning FCAT scores and was slapped with a $4 million fine.” The company has failed to meet deadlines in Wyoming, Minnesota and Virginia as well.

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