Separating Profits from Student Success
This past March the Florida Department of Education selected American Institutes for Research (AIR) to replace Pearson Education as the testing vendor for Florida K-12 public education starting in school year 2014-2015. Unlike Pearson, AIR is a not-for-profit entity, which may be a good thing. Here’s why.
Avoiding the Same Mistakes Again
Everyone in Florida K-12 public education wants accountability with fidelity and validity. Metrics are needed that help students and teachers exceed classroom goals and guide us in the best way to help students who fall short of those goals. We must all learn from the mistake of using student testing as a penalty for low-performing students.
Over the past several years prior to the administration of the test, Pearson accurately predicted pass/fail rates of the tests they were under contract to provide. Thus, they could accurately predict the dollar volume of remediation materials they then sold to those schools and/or school districts.
Basically, this turned our millions of public school students into a very lucrative opportunity for Pearson. This was all done under the noses of a state department of education that either turned a blind eye to this business practice, condoned it, or worse yet, were oblivious to this “fox guarding the henhouse” business model.
The state can erase the scepter of corruption that haunted Pearson’s administration of the FCAT by not repeating the same mistakes again. Specifically, AIR should have a prohibition placed on them from being allowed to sell remediation materials to schools and/or school districts that perform poorly on these tests.
It’s All About Accountability
As the immediate past chairman of the Central Florida Public School Board Coalition, we had established an FCAT accountability task force comprised of Lake County School Board member (and current Coalition chair) Rosanne Brandeburg, Orange County School Board member Rick Roach, Brevard County School Board member Karen Henderson, and myself. My job was to follow the money, thus I read every contract, proposal, etc. Student testing is big business, with testing companies routinely being paid hundreds of millions of tax dollars by the State of Florida.
Meanwhile, the piece few really paid attention to is where and from who are schools and school districts purchasing remedial materials for instructional staff to use to help subpar performing students. Over half of these purchases were from the same firm (Pearson) who developed, administered and got paid very handsomely to provide these tests. Obviously, even the most naïve taxpayer, educator and voter can understand the questionable nature of this relationship. In simplest terms, we have a company testing millions of our public school students who has a built-in incentive for students to do poorly on the test they are paid to provide and score, so they can sell more due to that poor performance. So far, the Florida Department of Education and Governor Scott have not voiced concern regarding this inherently suspect business model.
As taxpayers, voters and educators we deserve better. Assuming that the Florida Department of Education is oblivious to this testing model, it’s time for our legislators to take action regarding it. If we take the possibility of selling remediation materials away from the contracted testing company, odds are that the testing company might actually want students to perform well.
If AIR is allowed to sell remedial materials to schools based on tests they develop and administer, you can expect more of the same. We need our kids to get smarter, and that same logic applies to the Florida Department of Education. Don’t make the same mistake twice! We may very well need a new law stating that a firm contracted to do K-12 public student testing cannot sell remedial materials to public education entities in Florida based on the results of the tests they are contracted to develop and administer. It is that simple.
Jay Wheeler sits on the Osceola County School Board and was chairman of the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition in 2013. He is currently one of only two school board members serving on the Congress of regional leaders and has spoken before several classes of Leadership Orlando. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org