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Bipartisan outrage growing in Florida over Pearson's FCAT flubs

Education leaders from both political parties ramped up criticism of Florida's testing contractor on Friday, with one Board of Education member saying the company should be fired for delays in this year's FCAT scores.

"This is unacceptable. This is unconscionable. This is hurting our students and our teachers," said Akshay Desai, a Board of Education member and Republican fundraiser from St. Petersburg. "I think we as a board, we as a state, we've had enough of them."

The state announced last week that many Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results will be delayed until the end of June — a month behind schedule — because of problems with Pearson's database technology.

State officials say there are no problems with accuracy. But school districts need the results to schedule students, evaluate teachers and plan classes for the fall.

"I really hate the way the FCAT is used," said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a candidate for attorney general who closely follows education issues. "But that said, if you're going to pay a company $254 million, they ought to do it on time."

Pearson's four-year, $254 million contract requires it to pay escalating penalties for late results, rising to $250,000 a day for each set deemed extremely critical. By Friday, the company appeared to owe at least $6.21 million. The contract caps damages at $25 million.

Desai isn't the only one saying fines are not enough. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a former Okaloosa County superintendent, said this week the company should be canned. Gelber said Friday the contract "should be in extreme jeopardy" and called on the Board of Education to investigate what went wrong.

He and others are asking why the company was hired, given a history of problems in other states. (Those problems continue. In April, Wyoming officials said that state suffered $9.5 million in damages from a rash of errors with a Pearson-administered exam. Pearson initially offered to settle for $266,000.)

The Florida board, which meets Tuesday in Orlando, is expected to hear from Doug Kubach, president and chief executive of Pearson's testing group.

Asked Friday about calls for Pearson's firing, company spokesman Adam Gaber responded with this statement:

"We understand that Florida educators and students worked very hard to prepare for this year's FCAT, and I can't express enough how deeply we regret the recent issues. We are, however, confident that all 2010 FCAT scores are reliable and accurate, and we remain strongly committed to making this right now and in the future for the citizens of Florida."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Bipartisan outrage growing in Florida over Pearson's FCAT flubs 06/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 11:39pm]
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