Florida’s New Testing Non-Profit Has Received $36 Million in Grants From Gates Foundation

You just knew there had to be a catch.

Yesterday’s news that Education Commissioner Pam Stewart had selected a new testing company to replace FCAT. Erin Jester reports in the Gainesville Sun:

Stewart picked the nonprofit company American Institutes for Research to provide the test, which doesn’t yet have a name. The state is approving a six-year, $220 million contract with AIR to develop the test.

Floridians have been waiting for Stewart’s choice since September, when Gov. Rick Scott directed state education officials to back out of a multi-state consortium designing tests for the Common Core State Standards, which the Legislature adopted in 2010.

Following Scott’s order, the Florida Department of Education solicited public feedback on state English-language arts and math standards, eventually tweaking Common Core ever so slightly to become the Florida Standards.

Students will start taking the AIR test around this time next year.

“I feel very confident that it is the best choice for Florida students,” Stewart said during a media conference call.

So who is this “best choice for Florida Students.” The American Institutes for Research describes themselves:

AIR is one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations. Our overriding goal is to use the best science available to bring the most effective ideas and approaches to enhancing everyday life. For us, making the world a better place is not wishful thinking. It is the goal that drives us.

Founded in 1946 as a not-for-profit organization, we conduct our work with strict independence, objectivity and non-partisanship. Learn more about our history.

The intellectual diversity of our 1,600 employees enables us to bring together experts from many fields in the search for innovative answers to any challenge

AIR’s mission is to conduct and apply the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation towards improving peoples’ lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged

I guess high-stakes testing now falls under the guise of “behavioral and social science” now. AIR has apparently been ramping up this expansion for some time. While they make no mention of who funds their non-profit, a search of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grants shows that AIR has received 17 contributions from the Foundation, intended for college-readiness and post-secondary success.

AIR’s “educational assessment” page includes links to National Assessment of Progress (NAEP) and Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) although it’s unclear what role they play in the former.

Stewart’s airy justification that “it is important that each and every child in this state have the opportunity to learn and succeed in college, career and in life,” affirms she believes that such high-stakes test serve that end. Her assertion that “this new method of assessment will allow teachers to emphasize critical thinking, which will provide our students with even greater opportunities to live and learn in Florida” is actually an admission that teachers will need to teach to the test.

No word from Stewart yesterday on how this fits into Florida’s always “tweaked” multiple accountability systems. But Floridians probably won’t be surprised to learn that Bill Gates money is involved again and that another testing  giant will be dictating what happens in the state’s classrooms.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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One Response to Florida’s New Testing Non-Profit Has Received $36 Million in Grants From Gates Foundation

  1. Hi Bob. Thanks for this post. The more we look into the testing policies that are turning our schools into testing factories, the more we find, it’s all about the money. Here’s a talk I gave to the School Board of Palm Beach County about the value-added model of teacher evaluation:

    VAM: The Scarlet Letter

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