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Politics

Has the (Wrong) FCAT Replacement-Test Already Been Chosen?

February 28, 2014 - 6:00pm

The biggest decision facing the direction of Florida public education supposedly is only a few days away. But has the decision already been made in which vendor to select to assess the new Florida Standards?

On Feb. 18, Travis Pillow, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter, tweeted this: Reminder: Stewart is currently in negotiation with a testing vendor on FCAT replacement but is barred by law from saying which one. Earlier this week, many news outlets reported that the Department of Education's procurement team had selected American Institute of Research (AIR) for the new test to replace FCAT.

The decision fully rests with the commissioner of education but the procurement team's recommendation likely will carry a lot of weight.

So, who or what is AIR and what do we really know about it; and more importantly, is it qualified to handle a big state like Florida? AIR has been awarded contracts for testing Common Core standards in Utah, New Mexico, Minnesota, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Carolina.

In Minnesota, the roll-out has been less than stellar.

According to AIR's own literature, none of these states are even close to Florida's population size. AIR, in a PowerPoint presentation on the Utah State Office of Education website, openly highlights that they proved the test delivery for the Smarter Balance Consortium.

The Smarter Balance Consortium is a consortium of states throughout the country that have come together to try to create a centralized testing system much like PARCC. Florida was part of the PARCC national consortium until the governor abruptly ordered the DOE to pull out of it because it was the Common Cores testing platform.

It was perceived to be an overreach by the federal government and a first step toward a national takeover of education.

The tea party, a big supporter of Gov. Rick Scott, has been the primary adversary of PARCC and Common Core standards. So it seems odd that now the DOE would reverse course, pulling out of PARCC, choosing instead what appears to be PARCC's twin sister. This decision is unlikely to sit well with Scotts tea-party base.

Also, the governor is not the only candidate running this fall. The state Legislature has a vested interest as well and won't want to defend a surrogate sister of PARCC with a spotty record.

Pearson currently holds the contract administering the FCAT test. It is the mack-daddy of all education companies, largest in the world, headquartered in the United Kingdom. This pick could also be a problematic choice because the state has had issues in the past with administration of the FCAT, including delays in reporting.

The current FCAT version is perceived as very unpopular. So, if the commissioner of education were to pick Pearson, we will in all likelihood have an FCAT 3.0 - which guarantees that the DOE and governor will feel the wrath of parents, teachers, and school administrators from every corner of the state. Perhaps the biggest political problem for the governor is that he has stated on more than one occasion that "Florida is moving beyond the FCAT." A redo is not a move beyond.

The stakes are very high for the governor, Legislature and DOE. If AIR is the decision, it seems like the wrong one.

Jacob Engels is the founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a political operative, having led a number of statewide political groups and worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. He can be reached at info@eastorlandopost.com.

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