As Florida school districts began to ramp up for the 2011 FCAT season, several of them received improperly packaged writing exams from Pearson, the state testing contractor fined millions last year for delays in delivering scores.
Florida Department of Education officials confirmed Wednesday that some of the writing exams sent to districts the week of Feb. 14 — including to Tampa Bay — arrived without cover sheets and revealed the subject students would have to write about.
Students begin taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test writing exam on Tuesday.
The improper packaging appeared to be limited, Florida Department of Education spokesman Tom Butler said. He said such issues occur occasionally given the large number of writing tests — more than 500,000 — sent out in a year.
Pearson officials could not be reached for comment, but the company sent a team to every district to inspect all testing materials. It also paid the costs associated with replacing the faulty tests, Butler said.
In Pinellas, four boxes of the hundreds received had problems. "They overnighted replacement materials, which are already at our schools," Pinellas testing director Octavio Salcedo said via e-mail.
Hillsborough received faulty materials in its first shipment, and had one package of tests out of more than 600 boxes still lacking cover sheets in the second review.
Pasco school officials never even opened their first set of tests, but returned them. Pearson found no problems with the replacement tests. "They did open the boxes, every single one," said Peggy Jones, Pasco director of research and evaluation.
District and state officials expected the annual testing of fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders to go off without delay. But the situation did nothing to polish the image of troubled testmaker Pearson.
Last year, Pearson paid nearly $15 million in fines after its failure to score tests in a timely manner. Its slowness caused difficulties for school systems that rely on the test scores when placing students and assigning courses to teachers.
Pearson president Douglas Kubach assured the Florida Board of Education earlier in February that his company would deliver on time. Board member Kathleen Shanahan said she had not heard of the problems with the writing prompts, but that she would be asking questions.
Shanahan noted that the state board had set strict parameters and deadlines for Pearson, and that the board would be holding the company to those.
"All I can say is, the state board is serious about the expectations of performance of Pearson for this contract," she said. "If there is an inability for Pearson to meet the contract … there will be serious conversations/repercussions."
At least Pearson corrected the problem, she noted. "That was the right thing to do."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.