Company auditing FCAT scoring issues employed by company that scored test

— The company being charged by the state of Florida to audit the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is familiar with NCS Pearson, the company in charge of scoring the test.

In fact, Virginia-based HumRRO works for Pearson.

HumRRO is working as a subcontractor on the $254 million contract to administer the FCAT, and has done so since 2000.

“HumRRO’s clear connection to Pearson undermines Commissioner (Eric) Smith’s claim that they can be an ‘independent, third-party’ auditor,” said Bob Schaeffer, the public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Hiring HumRRO to handle the investigating is equivalent to asking the proverbial fox to report on why chickens are missing from the farmer’s coop. Florida politicians and their testing industry partners are ‘circling the wagons’ to protect the rapidly fading credibility of the test whose scores they so frequently misuse.”

That’s not exactly true, Florida Department of Education officials said Wednesday, standing behind its assertion that the evaluation will be independent.

“Our (request for proposals) requires that bidders include a subcontractor to provide independent verification of the equating procedures and results. They report their results directly to Florida DOE to ensure independence from contractor influence,” said Tom Butler, spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, in a statement. “The process and results of this activity are then audited by Buros, a process that has been completed.”

Butler said HumRRO is not influenced by Pearson or under it’s control, as a traditional subcontractor might be, and their analysis of the learning gains is different and separate from the work they conducted under subcontract.

“HumRRO is an independent organization of research scientists with a stellar reputation in the field of assessment,” he said, adding that the current work would be performed under a contract with the Florida Department of Education.

Superintendents of Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Duval and Leon county schools sent Smith a letter Monday asking the state to delay the calculation of school grades, and to convene a committee to review the data. Lee County School District Superintendent James Browder echoed that call in a statement Tuesday.

The districts questioned whether the gains the district made in several areas are attributed to scoring inconsistencies.

“My staff and I have been talking with districts across Florida and we all have found some scoring inconsistencies,” Browder said in a press release. “We continue to disaggregate the data to determine the level of these scoring abnormalities.”

Learning gains, especially in the area of reading, seem to exceed “normal” fluctuations in student performance, according to the statement from the district. The learning gains, or the amount the scores increase from one year to the next, on the reading and math portions of the exam are used to calculate school grades, which determine funding levels for districts. In the case of low grades, districts have to institute things like providing tutoring for students or allowing kids to switch to a higher-graded school.

Browder said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the connection between HumRRO and Pearson but the district has to trust the commissioner of education to do the right thing for the schools and, if in fact there is a link between the two, the state needs to think closely about what it wants that firm to do.

“If the results are the results, we’ll do what we have to do and fall back downstream,” he said. “I want to be able to assure parents and teachers we are holding them accountable. I don’t think any of those firms are below the table, but it does raise the question of having a firm that works for you check you out.”

Education Commissioner Eric Smith said in a statement that he had “the utmost confidence” in the accuracy and reliability of the 2010 FCAT results.

“Multiple reviews by an independent testing expert, The Buros Institute, in addition to our own internal verification procedures, have all confirmed this fact,” he said.

Staff writer Leslie Williams Hale contributed to this report.

© 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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