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Florida hits FCAT contractor Pearson with another $12 million in penalties

The state of Florida is demanding that standardized testing contractor Pearson pay another $11.72 million in damages stemming from this year's late FCAT results.

The Florida Education Department's latest demand is on top of more than $3 million it asked for in June. Pearson has paid the earlier amount.

Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith told Pearson he expects the damages to be paid by Aug. 6.

"Pearson's usage of unproven technology systems this year has caused great turmoil for our parents, teachers, administrators and other education stakeholders and I remain committed to holding the company fully accountable for these disruptions," Smith said in a written statement.

"It is our intent to make good on our previously stated commitment to reimburse the department and Florida districts for substantiated, unexpected costs due to the delay in reporting FCAT scores," Pearson spokesman Adam Gaber said in response.

The state announced in early June that many Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results would be more than a month behind schedule because of problems with Pearson's database technology. The state insisted there were no problems with accuracy, but the delay caused headaches for school districts that needed the results to schedule students, evaluate teachers and plan classes for the fall.

Since the release of scores on June 29, however, dozens of districts have challenged the results, saying many elementary schools took a statistically improbable dive in reading scores. The release of school grades — which had been anticipated next week — has been delayed until two testing centers can review the results.

It was not clear Friday when those reviews may be finished.

But in its written statement Pearson said "the FCAT scores are valid and accurate."

The company'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.

The Education Department fined Pearson $3,025,000 for late delivery of third-grade reading and math results and 10th-grade retake results. It's asking for another $11.72 million because of late delivery of math and reading results in Grades 4-10 and science results in Grades 5, 8 and 11.

Smith said top Pearson officials will meet with him next week and will go before the state Board of Education in September.

He also raised the possibility that more fines may be coming.

"Currently, school districts are still in the process of recording any additional costs they have incurred due to the late results," he said in the statement. "If the total amount of those expenses exceeds the amount available through liquidated damages, I will immediately demand the necessary additional funds to ensure our districts are fully covered."

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

Florida hits FCAT contractor Pearson with another $12 million in penalties 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 10:59pm]
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