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FCAT score delays could last weeks

For schools around Tampa Bay, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores are necessary for figuring out staffing for the next school year.

For students, they can mean a difference in transferring schools or selecting classes for the coming year — or even graduating.

But according to a memo sent Friday to superintendents, most of those scores will be delayed for weeks — until after classes are out for the summer — because the company hired by the state to run its testing has suffered widespread problems administering and grading the exams.

"I think the delay will definitely have impact on students that didn't pass them," said Pinellas County School Board member Mary L. Tyus Brown. "It will have impact on teachers in the planning process. We always like that information as soon as we can get it."

In addition to causing planning headaches, the delay means school districts will need to find a way to deliver the results to students.

"It's going to be a problem because we get out of school on June 10," Hillsborough County schools spokesman Steve Hegarty said. "We're going to have to find a way to get the scores to students. There's expense involved in that. They should have scores by the time they leave."

Hegarty said that while scores for third-grade students — which determine grade promotion — have been received, other grades have not. A version of the test given to 10th-graders, which determines whether a student can graduate from high school, is also among those delayed.

Brown, a former Pinellas board chairwoman who was first elected in 2002, said that although tests have been late before, the delay, which is expected to last until the end of June, is one of the longest. "I can't remember it being more than a couple weeks," Brown said.

The testing company, NCS Pearson, received a $254 million contract good through November 2013 from the Florida Department of Education to administer and score the exams on paper and pilot the state's new computer-based tests.

In the memo late last week, Frances Haithcock, the state's chancellor for kindergarten through 12th grade, apologized for the delays. "This year's release of FCAT results has varied greatly from years past and I know the delays in the reporting of student scores have caused issues for many of you locally," Haithcock wrote.

"Please know that I understand your frustrations and concerns and that I remain intently involved in concluding this year's reporting in a successful and reliable manner."

The delay, first reported by the Miami Herald, underscores problems Pearson has had throughout the year. Memos reviewed by the Herald from the education department and school districts showed that:

• A subcontractor failed to deliver testing materials to some schools.

• Some of the company's student databases weren't compatible with state databases, delaying the bulk of student scores.

• Tenth-graders had to be given the exams again on paper after a computerized version had systemwide glitches.

• Technical problems plagued testing of the state's new computerized end-of-course exams.

Pearson officials did not respond to requests Sunday for comment from the St. Petersburg Times.

Additionally, to save money, the state opted to have the writing tests this year graded by one person instead of two. The state delayed releasing those results to make sure they were valid.

Nearly all major testing companies have had problems since the federal No Child Left Behind law made standardized testing a national priority, said Robert Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

"Companies over-promise and under-deliver and states, particularly in the last several years because of the fiscal crisis, take the lowest bidder who promises to do the job whether that company's track record demonstrates that they can do it," he said.

Pearson has had problems with exams in other states, too, the Associated Press reported.

The company was blamed for delays related to test-scoring problems in Arkansas last year and South Carolina in 2008. This year, Wyoming claimed $9.5 million in damages after an online test administered by Pearson was plagued with glitches.

The company and the College Board settled a class-action suit for nearly $3 million after 4,400 students were underscored on the SAT in 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

FCAT score delays could last weeks 06/06/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 6, 2010 11:14pm]
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