Florida school districts learned Wednesday that the release of individual school grades will be delayed so that a second company can audit FCAT scores that some superintendents have flagged as suspicious.
It is unclear how long the grades will be delayed. Also unclear Wednesday was whether the review also will delay the release of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores to individual students. Local school officials hope to learn more in a conference call with state education leaders scheduled for today.
News of a second auditor came a day after local school leaders blasted the state for hiring a company called HumRRO to do the job.
HumRRO, based in Virginia, is a subcontractor for NCS Pearson, the testing giant in charge of scoring the test in the first place. Several school superintendents see it as a conflict of interest.
"We absolutely are concerned about that," Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia said Tuesday. "Our whole purpose in asking for a third-party review is that it's not someone who has an allegiance to anybody."
State officials responded by saying that they saw no conflict but sought another auditor in order to make the process fully accurate and transparent.
Wednesday, state Department of Education officials said they have hired the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, also called the Center for Assessment, as an additional reviewer of the results.
The New Hampshire-based Center for Assessment will be reviewing the test design, scaling and equating of the FCAT, with a particular focus on Grades 3, 4, and 5 reading and mathematics for 2007 through 2010, according to a website the Education Department created.
"The search for both HumRRO and the Center for Assessment began as soon as the initial concerns were raised by districts and we are confident they will provide independent, unbiased feedback related to our assessment and accountability processes," spokesman Tom Butler said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday afternoon.
Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen said the state's decision to hire another company was necessary.
"I think it's a smart move," she said Wednesday night. "We want to make sure that this is truly clear of bias."
Janssen expressed doubts about the accuracy of the test results, which school leaders said had fallen statewide by statistically improbable margins.
In Pinellas, officials estimated that if the current test scores stand, 22 elementary schools will be penalized a letter grade for failing to make enough progress among their lowest-performing students, compared to three schools last year.
FCAT scores help determine student placement, school grades and millions of dollars in state funding.
Janssen said the delay is worth the wait.
"It's pretty tense right now," Janssen said. "It's really important to make sure these scores are accurate."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.