Federal audit finds scoring deficiencies on FCAT

— A federal audit of Florida’s testing program has revealed that some FCAT answer sheets were not properly scored by machines, and some exam readers should not have been hired to score the FCAT writing essays.

The audit, which was released last week, found scoring disparities on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is administered to more than one million Florida students in grades three to 10. The audit, which was performed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, also found that the state Department of Education did not monitor its then-testing contractor as well as it should have, resulting in the hiring of some employees who were unqualified to grade the exams.

The audit found that despite the discrepancies, the Florida Department of Education’s internal controls over the scoring of the FCAT can provide “reasonable assurance that assessment results are reliable.”

But auditors recommended that the state improve its scoring process and better monitor its contractor, which is paid hundreds of millions of dollars to administer the FCAT.

The audit reviewed 50 FCAT answer booklets from the 2007-08 school year and found that in nine cases, the scoring machine did not accurately pick up the student’s answers after he or she erased one before choosing another answer.

In addition, the audit found that the Florida Department of Education did not oversee CTB McGraw Hill, its then contractor, and did not ensure the company was following contract requirements. During a visit to the CTB facility in Indianapolis, auditors found papers with Florida students’ information discarded in the trash. This is especially concerning, according to the report, because the state uses students’ social security numbers instead of “other unique identifiers” on assessment documents.

“CTB officials acknowledged the incident and immediately issued a Quality Alert memorandum and took steps to resolve the issue,” according to the report. “However, the contractor needs to implement additional procedures, including secure trash pickup or shredders at each quality control workstation to better safeguard FCAT material.”

The report also found that CTB hired subcontractors, but did not monitor the subcontractor’s hiring practices. As a result, subcontractors hired people they should not have, including 17 people who should not have been allowed to score FCAT writing exams because they did not have their degrees verified.

Auditors also could not get CTB to willingly share information and did not provide the data requested until they were sent subpoenas.

The state disagreed with two of the three findings in the federal audit.

Among the objections, state education officials said auditors should not have relied on copies to determine scanning discrepancies, but should have relied on the original tests. The state also disagreed with the assertion that the Department of Education “did not sufficiently monitor its assessment contractor.”

The Florida Department of Education “stated that its Scoring and Reporting personnel are present at scanning sites during the scoring process of each FCAT administration to ensure that all aspects of the scanning operation proceed according to its contractual agreement and that related requirements are met,” according to the report. “FLDOE stated that it regretted that the cited incident occurred but did not think the one instance warranted the audit team’s conclusion.”

The audit recommended the state ensures its new test company, Pearson, follow the requirements of its five-year, $254 million contract.

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