May 16, 2017
Inside a Pearson test center in Orlando, career seekers are tested on their knowledge from cosmetology to psychology, real estate to law enforcement.
It's Pearson that also tests aspiring Florida teachers, who must pass the Florida Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) if they want to teach in a Florida classroom or move up in their teaching careers by taking the Florida Educational Leadership Exam (FELE).
"It makes you feel stupid," said Kaitlyn Frank who is still struggling to pass portions of the test she's now taken and failed five times.
The tests even have veteran teachers like 13 year veteran middle school teacher, Maria D'Oleo and 21 year veteran, Julie McCue, frustrated for answers. McCue and D'Oleo haven't been able to pass the FELE tests despite repeated attempts and their own high professional evaluations as teachers in their Florida districts.
"I'm embarrassed and ashamed," explained McCue. "I sat for it [FELE] for the 4th time and I got the same results. Missed it by 1 point," McCue explained. She's been struggling to pass the essay portion of the FELE test.
Without a passing score, McCue won't be able to earn a higher teacher's salary for the Master's Degree she went back to school for. McCue graduated from her Master's program with a 4.0 GPA. McCue is one of two frustrated examinees now challenging her scores by taking the FDOE to court. Her case is scheduled to be heard by an administrative judge in June.
"The problem is the test, nothing else," said Maria D'Oleo, who along with dozens of others who have contacted us since our first investigation in February, claim the new tests are flawed. Many believe there are issues with test questions not accurately testing skills while others believe there are issues with Pearson graders who score the exam including the subjective parts like the essay portions.
But while questions continue to mount over the exams' validity and fairness, we've uncovered more about its rising costs.
Prior to 2009, the FTCE and FELE tests costs examinees $25 per section to take. Both the FTCE and FELE have various sections depending on teacher specialties.
Prior to 2009, retakes didn't cost a penny more.
Today, portions of Florida's teacher tests cost up to $200 per section to take and retakes are an additional $20 more.
The increase in costs since 2009 represent nearly an 800% increases in less than ten years.
We discovered Florida's teacher certification exam is one of the priciest teacher certification tests in the country.
"They're just trying to make money off of teachers," said Kaitlyn Frank.
According to the Florida Department of Education, the tests once funded by the legislature are now 100% paid for by test-takers. According to an FDOE spokesperson, test fees pay for every part of administering the exam- from the testing centers to computer equipment to salaries of Pearson-hired graders.
"This is a real problem for the state of Florida," said Roger Brindley Interim Dean of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. He and Deans across the state have witnessed critical fallout from unprecedented failure rates resulting from these tests. Education prep programs around the state have seen drops in graduation rates because students can't pass the FTCE test. In addition, many students frustrated with failing the state's teacher certification exam are now opting for new majors so enrollment is significantly down at Colleges/University education programs.
Colleges/University Deans are so concerned about the impact the test is having on its students, they are now studying if higher scores on the test equates to more successful teachers. Many Deans point out that there are currently no studies that show success on the FL teacher Certification Exam results in more successful teachers.
The Pearson test center in Orlando is one of four locations where frustrated teachers can challenge the scores they recieve on the FTCE or FELE exams. But, like every part of the exam, questing a score doesn't come cheap. A so-called "score verification session" costs examinees an additional $75 to do and state numbers show, it rarely make a difference.
Between January 2016 and February 2017, 871 examinees paid Pearson for a score verification sessions. But only 15 scores change from fail to pass, which represents less than 2% of participants.
After her 5th attempt and 5th failure, Kaitlyn Frank was one of them.
"I challenged every question I got wrong because, hey maybe something will work and then I got a letter in the mail saying thank you, however, your scores still stand. So basically, thank you for your money," said Frank.
We caught up with Pearson at a recent teacher convention in Tampa, but a spokesperson declined to answer our questions and immediately referred us to the Florida Department of Education. The FDOE has also declined our repeated requests for an on camera interview. On Tuesday morning, we caught up with Florida's Commissioner on Education during a board meeting in Miami.
"They [teacher test] are aligned to the standards that are being taught in the classroom, which is appropriate," Commissioner Pamela Stewart told us. "We want our teachers to be experts in the content area and these tests demonstrate that," she said.
When asked if the number of repeated failures raise questions over whether the exam is flawed, Stewart said, "We have research that shows the tests are not flawed. I think it's a reflection of we've raised standards for students and, consequently, we need to raise standards for teachers and make sure they are experts in the content area that they are teaching," she said.
Stewart walked away after we asked about the near 800% increase in testing fees in less than a decade.