News Section: Schools and Education
Educational Reform Groups Call for FCAT Audit
BRADENTON – Based on a history of grading errors, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing has called for an independent audit and investigation of Pearson, the company that designed and graded the state’s 2012 FCAT exams. “Pearson has a troubling history of testing errors, the worst in an unregulated, irresponsible industry,” said FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer, a Southwest Florida resident.
“Trying to ‘fix’ this year’s writing test ‘crisis’ by changing the score level deemed acceptable, as the state board of education has proposed, ignores the fundamental problems with the FCAT and its contractor,“ Schaeffer continued. “It is clear that Florida school grades reflect profoundly political decisions based on ever-changing standards. They are not consistent, meaningful measures of student learning and teaching quality.”
Yesterday, FairTest released a chronology of more than a dozen questionable aspects of Pearson test design, administration and scoring over the past decade. Two years ago, Florida fined the company $15 million for late delivery of scores, the accuracy of which were later questioned. Pearson was previously at the center of controversy in New York, where the state's attorney general investigated trips the company sponsored for state education officials prior to being awarded a contract for testing in that state. Similar concerns had previously been raised in Iowa.
In addition to questionable practices, the company has routinely come under fire for sloppy work, including dozens of errors and poorly designed tests, which included questions like the now infamous “Pineapple and the Hare” fiasco.
“There’s no accountability for testing companies or the politicians and ideologues who endorse the industry’s products as magic cure-alls for whatever ails education,” Schaeffer concluded. “It’s time to examine the examiners. If test promoters cannot demonstrate that their exams are high quality tools that help our children learn, they should be abandoned.”
Another reform group, Fund Education Now, is also backing calls for a Pearson Audit.
"Governor Scott and his appointed Commissioner and Board of Education have gone too far," said Christine Fioritto-Sket, the group's Gulf Coast Regional Director. "It is statistically improbable for students to suddenly, across the board in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades perform over 50% worse on a test. The abysmal FCAT Writes scores are proof that Tallahassee's 'education reforms' are an unmitigated disaster."
The call for an audit comes in the wake of preliminary results released Monday which indicated that just 27 percent of 4th-graders would receive a passing score of 4.0 or better (out of 6) on the writing portion of the test. Last year, 81 percent of students scored at least 4.0 or better. The results were similarly disappointing for 8th and 10th graders. The state says that the changes to scoring were made to help Florida get in tune with forthcoming national standards, while many opponents argue that it is part of a plan to deleverage public schools, just as the state is becoming more friendly toward for-profit education.
In a special meeting on Tuesday, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to drop the score considered proficient on this year's writing portion of the test to a 3.0 from a 4.0, a move that would put the failure rate closer to last year's. Members of the board said they didn't want to appear to be lowering standards, but also didn't want schools and districts to be penalized for the unexpected drop in scores.
The results have renewed calls to move away from the FCAT as the high-stake center of educational assessment. House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders said in a release, "I hope today's writing scores puts needed attention on the fact that for Florida to create a world-class education system for the 21st Century, state leaders will have to make funding for classrooms and teachers a higher priority, and they should rely on the FCAT as a diagnostic tool instead of misusing it as a measuring stick for how we assess student progress..."