Florida agreed last year to pay NCS Pearson, the nation's leading scorer of standardized tests, $254 million over five years to score the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and report those scores back to the state in a timely manner. But Pearson is failing the timeliness test. Some results due in May may not be available until the end of June, throwing a wrench into school districts' planning for the next school year. With other states also reporting problems getting accurate and timely results from the company, Florida should hold Pearson accountable for its tardiness.
Add the current debacle to Pearson's list of problems. This is the same company that a few years ago used the wrong answer key to score 47,000 exams in Minnesota, causing some students to miss their graduations. It is the same company that botched SAT scores in 2005, eventually paying, along with the College Board, $2.85 million to settle a class-action lawsuit. Pearson has had scoring or reporting problems in at least three other states since 2008, including Arkansas, Wyoming and South Carolina.
Late score reports are frustrating to students, parents and school districts. FCAT scores are used to determine whether students can advance to the next grade, what courses they should take and whether they need remedial classes. School districts use the scores to make personnel decisions in schools and position resources for the coming school year, which begins in August. Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen was waiting for the scores to make decisions about whether to keep or remove key administrators in a couple of troubled Pinellas schools.
Pearson's inability to report the scores on time has thrown those plans into disarray in school districts across Florida. It also means the districts will have to mail scores to students rather than delivering them at school, incurring extra time and expense.
The delay in this year's scores reportedly was caused by incompatibility between the state's student database and Pearson's database, though it is not clear why the problem didn't arise previously. But that isn't Pearson's only failing in Florida this year. The Miami Herald reported Pearson also had technical problems running a pilot computerized version of the 10th grade FCAT retake exams, so students were allowed to take the exam again using pencil and paper. And Pearson has struggled with numerous glitches in the trial runs of the end-of-course exams that will replace the FCAT.
Pearson sought the job of scoring Florida's tests, and it is paid well by taxpayers to do the job right. State education officials need to reinforce their high expectations by levying the full fines for late reporting contained in the state contract. Making the company pay a high price for its failures may be the only way Florida can be assured that it won't be disappointed again and again by the company's performance.