Florida consolidates testing contracts

The new agreements do not address any changes that might arise from pending standards revisions.
Land O'Lakes High ninth-graders await the start of the Florida Standards Assessments writing test in March 2015. [Pasco County School District]
Land O'Lakes High ninth-graders await the start of the Florida Standards Assessments writing test in March 2015. [Pasco County School District]
Published Jan. 6, 2020

Six years ago, the nonprofit American Institutes for Research won a $220 million contract to devise Florida’s new language arts and math exams that tie into the state’s revised academic standards.

It bested testing giants Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill to get the job.

And now, with the deal expired, AIR is expanding its presence in Florida’s accountability program, this time receiving a larger contract to provide social studies and science assessments, in addition to language arts and math. Pearson had held the social studies and science agreement previously, and will continue as a subcontractor to AIR, according to the Department of Education.

The new agreement comes just months after AIR announced it had been bought by online education firm Cambium Learning. Officials said that deal would not affect the company’s daily operations.

It also arises as the Department of Education works to move Florida to another set of academic guidelines, away from the Common Core that undergirds the current Florida Standards. K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva told superintendents in a recent memo that the latest testing contract with AIR does not take into account any testing changes that might be required if and when the state adopts any revisions.

What the new arrangement will do once it takes effect in the summer — after the current school year testing is completed — is make it so students will need only one log-in for all their computerized state tests, and allow students to have the same online tools and accommodations for all those exams.

It also will streamline user manuals, administration rules, the testing help desk, score reports and a variety of other aspects of assessment to make the process more efficient for schools, Oliva told the superintendents. By eliminating duplicative work, he added, the overall cost for testing will decrease.

The contract amount was not provided.

AIR had several problems when it first launched in Florida. Some students struggled to log into their tests, while others were knocked out of their exams and could not complete them. Hackers interfered with the system, and at one point the provider made adjustments without approval that caused added difficulties.

The state ended up hiring an outside firm to conduct a validity study of AIR’s work. That $600,000 report found several flaws, but the state determined that AIR was capable of overcoming any concerns.

In the years that followed, the initial troubles did not repeat themselves to any great degree — although the overriding criticism by anti-testing activists persisted. The testing debate is likely to revive as discussion over academic standards heats up.