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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

When will Florida assess fines against AIR over spring testing troubles?



It was April 20 -- almost eight months ago -- and Florida students had run into yet another round of problems accessing their state computerized math and language arts tests.

Vendor AIR admitted fault, saying its employees had made unauthorized technical changes to the testing system that caused the breakdown. Education commissioner Pam Stewart called the action "unacceptable" and said Florida would hold AIR accountable "for the disruption they have caused the state."

That meant financial penalties. (Lawmakers later added into law specific language allowing the state to seek damages from AIR.)

But as schools prepare to break for the winter holidays, the next set of state tests set to begin in 2-1/2 months, Stewart has yet to enforce any fines against the company. Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins told the Gradebook that the department hadn't acted yet, and "since this is a pending legal matter, we cannot release any additional details at this time."

She said the department had no correspondence to provide regarding the testing contract and possible penalties, and that its legal division was handling the issue.

This type of lengthy delay did not take place for a much smaller infraction back in 2010.

At that time, Pearson was supposed to deliver FCAT results by mid May but missed the deadline.

Within three weeks, the department announced its intention to fine Pearson $250,000 a day as spelled out in its contract. A month later, the company had paid $3 million in fines, and education commissioner Eric Smith had sent a second bill for another $11.7 million. By late September, Pearson had paid its penalties, and the State Board of Education warned that more might come if the firm didn't improve its performance.

These days, the State Board has talked a lot about how to set cut scores for the test. But the myriad problems that students faced taking those tests last spring, and the validity study that followed, seem to have faded from conversation.

[Last modified: Tuesday, December 8, 2015 9:50am]


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