Will Florida Become a Battleground For Pearson and AIR?


Former Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett arrived with some carry-on baggage. While serving as Indiana’s top education boss, he served as the fiscal agent for the  multi-state consortia which would administer PARCC exams to several state’s students. When Bennett was forced to resign in Florida for changing the grade of a charter school which belonged to a campaign contributor, PARCC lost its leverage. And when PARCC became controversial due to some incredible meltdowns in New York, Florida governor Rick Scott signed an executive order in 2013 to end the state’s commitment.

So as the long-time contractor for Florida’s high-stakes FCAT test , Pearson was out. When Florida’s new commissioner, Pam Stewart,  chose the American Institutes of Research (AIR) as the new contractor, it was Pearson’s top competitor for state-level exams which won out.  AIR underbid Pearson by so much that Florida couldn’t refuse. Test-weary Floridians would have been outraged at another huge chuck of money going  to the British testing giant.

This month, Florida public school kids began taking the first of AIR’s tests. Frequent mishaps occurred at the beginning of last week before AIR discovered they were hacked on Thursday. It’s not the first time either. Employees of AIR learned in May 2014  that their personal information had been hacked by an unknown source.

Meanwhile, AIR is facing off against in a New Mexico courtroom against Pearson regarding that state’s contract to provide high-stakes tests. From AP reporter Russell Contreras in KOB4 TV.com:

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Lawyers have submitted arguments in a legal challenge to New Mexico’s contract with a testing company that may halt a much-debated assessment exam in the state.

Santa Fe District Judge Sarah Singleton heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could overturn a contract awarded to London-based Pearson and potentially tangle up other states using the same test.

Last year, Pearson was awarded a contact given out by states belonging to a consortium for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, or PARCC.

Thomas McGovern, a lawyer for the Washington-based American Institutes for Research (AIR) , says New Mexico and the consortium unfairly helped shape bidding requirements crafted especially for Pearson.

But attorneys for New Mexico say the process was fair and AIR did not submit a bid.

Why would AIR make a stink about not getting a contract for which they didn’t even make a bid? With such a huge chuck of taxpayer’s education dollars going to high-stakes test corporations like AIR and Pearson, such a litigious exercise is business being business. Could anyone blame Pearson for swooping in on AIR’s Florida misfortune after getting attacked by it’s lawyers in New Mexico?

Computer Business Review estimates that such attacks as AIR received are likely from “hacktivists” engaging in political protests. Maybe there are some really crazy anti-common core or anti-testing activists out there doing some serious mischief.

But were the two cyber attacks on AIR just by a few wannabe Anonymous-inspired hacker-sleuths? The effort against 6500 employees of AIR when considered alongside the hack of the server for its Florida test contract clearly shows that AIR is someone’s target. Is it two separate entities or is it the same one?

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the Florida hack and the state’s DOE is claiming nor harm was done. Last week’s testing problems won’t go away with spin control – not with a skeptical media looking on. Somehow, you just know that Pearson and AIR will be facing off in Florida where a contract for state tests is much, much larger than in New Mexico.




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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