The biggest decision in the history of Florida education.
By Jacob Engels
The biggest decision facing the direction of the State of Florida’s public education system is only a few days away from being finalized. With the adoption of the new Florida Standards, the state will now turn it’s attention towards selecting a vendor to assess these new standards, but has the decision already been made?
On February 18, 2014 Travis Pillow a reporter with the Tallahassee Democrat reported on twitter “Reminder: Stewart is currently 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 DOE’s Procurement Team had selected American Institute of Research (AIR) for the “new test” to replace the FCAT.
The decision fully rests with the Commissioner of Education but you can bet that the Committee’s recommendation will carry a lot of weight. So who is AIR and what do we really know about them and more importantly are they really 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 role out has been less than stellar.
According to AIRs own literature, none of these states are even close to the population size that we have in Florida. AIR in a PowerPoint presentation that is on the Utah State office of Education website, openly highlights the fact 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 and create a centralized testing system much like PARCC. PARCC as you may remember was the national consortium that Florida was a part of until the Governor abruptly ordered the DOE to pull out of it because it was the Common Core’s testing platform. It was perceived to be an overreach by the federal government and a first step toward a national take over of education.
The Tea Party, which has been a big supporter of Governor Scott, has been the primary adversary of PARCC and the Common Core standards. So it seems odd that now the DOE would reverse course pulling out of PARCC, but choose what appears to be the twin sister of PARCC. I can’t imagine this decision would sit well with Scott’s Tea Party base that has spilled blood, getting Florida to move away from the Common Core standards and forced the Governor to get out of the national consortium (PARCC). And lets not forget that the Governor is not the only candidate running this fall. The state legislature has a vested interest as well and I doubt they want to try and defend a surrogate sister of PARCC and one that has a spotty record.
Pearson currently holds the contract administering the FCAT test, right now. They are the mack-daddy of all education companies, largest in the world headquartered out of the UK. This pick could also be a problematic choice since the State has had issues in the past with the administration of the FCAT including delays in reporting. The current version of the FCAT is perceived as very unpopular. So, if the Commissioner 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 Moms, Dads, teachers, and school administrators from every corner of the State. And maybe the biggest political problem for the Governor is that he has stated on more than one occasion that we were moving beyond the FCAT. A redo is not a move beyond.
The stakes are very high for the Governor, Legislature and DOE – a misstep in selecting the new assessment could hurt our most vulnerable citizens, our students. And lets not forget the state has made its position very clear “we want out of PARCC.” Selecting the sister of PARCC to do Florida’s next generation of testing is the wrong way to go.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org