Why put up with Pearson? Florida education, legislative leaders say they don't
In the wake of the announcement that FCAT scores would be delayed for weeks, mostly due to contractor problems, one Gradebook reader urged us to ask the powers that be this question: "why tolerate a private business messing up, but set out to crucify public school teachers if a kid can't pass a test?"
We passed along the question, just like that. House Education Policy Committee chairman John Legg and Florida education commissioner Eric Smith responded. Here's what they said.
"The delay in the Pearson’s data process is very concerning. I understand that the difficulties are directly related to Pearson’s database technology which handles student demographic information and not with the accuracy and reliability of the scoring results. Nevertheless, the data provided by the FCAT assist our teachers and parents in planning to meet the learning needs of our students and should be timely delivered. Failure to do so is not acceptable.
I have spoken to the commissioner already and strongly advocated that we enforce contractual provisions and penalize Pearson accordingly. Additionally, because the Spring 2010 FCAT individual student reports will not be available for distribution prior to the 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. Also, the argument about crucifying teachers is absurd. Teachers should be rewarded for their hard work and when our students succeed, our state succeeds and our teachers should be rewarded for their success."
“It would be inaccurate to say that the issues that Pearson is experiencing are being tolerated. As I’m sure your reader would agree, our first priority must be to focus all energy on getting FCAT results out to the public. Once that is complete we can begin to assess the entire process and hold our contractor responsible. Our contract does include provisions to hold Pearson accountable for such performance problems as late reporting. These provisions include “liquidated damages” under which the contractor would pay financial penalties to Florida for such delays. For example, after seven days of delay of an extremely critical date such as reporting results, the contractor is liable for damages up to $250,000 per day.
Additionally, I think it is important to point out the high degree of esteem I hold for our teachers. Our students have experienced significant academic gains over the last decade and this progress can be attributed to the fantastic work of Florida’s teachers. They deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their great efforts and I want to continue to explore new and effective ways to make that happen.”
UPDATE: In a separate press statement issued less than an hour ago, Smith had this further to say:
“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.”