Published Online: June 29, 2010

FCAT Scores, Finally Released, Show Gains for Fla. Students

A contractor faces costs and damages that could top $25 million for being more than a month late with standardized test scores, released Tuesday, that show improvement by most of Florida's school children.

Bloomington, Minn.-based NCS Pearson's contract includes penalties ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 per day for missing deadlines on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The scores for grades four through 11 were supposed to be delivered May 19-21.

Although the scores are late, Education Commissioner Eric Smith said he is confident the FCAT scores are accurate. Delays were caused by problems in matching databases, not the quality of the scoring, he said.

"You can put complete faith in these numbers," Smith said. "Parents should believe in them."

They show improvements of 1 to 4 percentage points for most grade levels in reading, math and science. Writing scores are down for most grades, but Smith said this year's writing test cannot be compared with those in the past because it was significantly changed.

The state already has asked Pearson to pay $3 million in penalties for delays in previously released third grade reading and math scores and retakes of the 10th grade FCAT. Third grade reading results are used to promote students to the fourth grade. High school students must pass the 10th grade exam to receive a standard diploma.

FCAT results at all levels are used to grade the state's schools. Those getting an A or improving by at least one grade can receive a reward of up to $75 per student. Chronically failing schools can face penalties that include removing teachers and other staff or closure.

Smith said Pearson, in the first year of a $254 million, four-year contract to administer the test, has committed to paying costs beyond a $25 million cap on penalties if required.

Smith said remaining penalties haven't yet been calculated and that the state also will ask for costs incurred by school districts related mainly to the FCAT's dual purpose as an individual assessment tool.

"The real impact is finalizing some of the scheduling of a school to make sure that students are properly identified for class assignments for the fall and the proper staff is hired," Smith said.

Due to budget cuts, many schools no longer keep guidance counselors and other staffers on 12-month contracts, Smith said.

"These people just aren't around in the month of July to finish up this work," Smith said. "So they're going to need to be called back."

This isn't the first time the FCAT has had problems. A design flaw in 2006 caused inflated grades for the third grade reading test. Scores also were delayed in 2008, but not as late as this, Smith said.

Those problems occurred when the state used CTB/McGraw-Hill, also the only other bidder for the current contract.

Smith said he believes Pearson can fix the current problems before the next round of testing in October.

"We do have very intense and aggressive conversations going on with Pearson," Smith said. "If I thought Pearson simply could not deliver ... we would go in a different direction."

Reading results show that 72 percent of fourth graders scored at grade level or above, down 2 percentage points from last year. Fifth graders also were down 2 points, but sixth through ninth grades each were up 1 percentage point and 10th grade was up 2 points.

Fourth and ninth graders were down a percentage point in math but other grades were up with 10th grade showing the biggest gain of four percentage points to 73 percent.

Science scores remain low but were up for each of the three grades tested. Only 49 percent of fifth graders scored at or above grade level but that was three percentage points better than last year. Eighth grade was up 2 points to 43 percent and 11th grade up 1 point to 38 percent.

Vol. 29

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