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Ed Testing Company AIR Tapped To Develop FCAT Replacement Exams

The non-profit American Institutes for Research has been named Florida's new testing vendor

The American Institutes for Research has been named as Florida’s new testing vendor and will build and design the exams that replace the outgoing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The FCAT was initially supposed to be replaced by Common Core-aligned English and Math exams developed by a coalition of states. Those tests were called PARCC. But Florida officials began pulling back from both Common Core and its attached tests, leaving the state without an FCAT replacement. Monday, Florida got its answer from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart:

“I have chosen the not-for-profit American Institutes for Research, to provide the new English-Mathematics assessment, which will be administered the 2014-15 school year, that will be the spring of 2015," she said in a conference call Monday with reporters.

Last month, a review committee recommended AIR for the state testing contract, largely due to the company’s ability to build a test that won’t need to be field-tested and can be administered on computers, as well as with paper and number two pencils. A-I-R is also working on the state of Utah’s assessments. They’re not the same tests Florida will use, but Stewart says she’s okay with not having Florida students involved in benchmarking A-I-R’s process.

“Field testing informs the vender with whether items are appropriate, so we feel very confident in the ability of their field testing to inform their items moving forward with us," she said.

Utah was an early adopter of the other Common Core-aligned testing consortium, called Smarter Balanced. But it pulled out of that consortium last year—much like Florida is now doing with PARCC.  AIR head of testing John Cohen says his company has been involved in building the Smarter Balanced testing platform.

“We had a small part in item development—we were a subcontractor to McGraw Hill-- and a very large role in the test delivery—so our role there is to help with deliver the test online and deliver a test to them so that others can deliver the test online," Cohen said last month after the firm was recommended for the Florida contract.

There are only a select few companies that build the kind of massive testing networks states like Florida must have to administer statewide exams. Other applicants for the Florida contract included large firms such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill. In an exchange with a reporter, state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart noted that just because AIR has been involved with the Smarter Balanced consortium doesn’t mean that will follow the firm to Florida.

Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout asked, "They were also chosen to be the platform/delivery for the Smarter Balanced assessment. So my question is, is this the same platform they’re doing for Smarter Balanced? Or is this something separate?"

Stewart responded, "Please don’t confuse the two, Gary. This is a platform unique to Florida.”  

Officials with the Utah Department of Education say they are not using Smarter Balanced-based questions on their exams, and Florida DOE spokesman Joe Follick says the same will be true for Florida.

“There will not be any questions used by any national consortiums on the Florida assessments when they are in Florida schools for the next school year. Very clear from the beginning the emphasis was on designing a test for the unique needs of Florida’s students," Follick says.

How Florida will be able to compare its students to those in other states is still unclear, though Stewart says the state will have that ability.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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