Florida's Education Commissioner stands by tests teachers keep flunking

Posted at 5:00 PM, May 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-18 19:45:56-04

During a state board of education meeting in Miami this week, Florida's Education Commissioner defended failure rates on Florida's teacher certification exam.

"We can provide you with a great deal of information about those assessments.  The board votes on those assessments and they are aligned to the standards that are being taught in the classroom which are appropriate," said Commissioner Pamela Stewart.

For months, we've tracked failures on the Florida Teacher Certification Exam (FTCE) and Florida Educational Leadership Exam (FELE).  The FTCE is a must-pass to teach in a public Florida classroom.  The FELE is needed for teachers who want to get promoted. 

But after the state revised the FTCE & FELE exams in 2015, failure rates have increased up to 30% on some portions of the exams.  We discovered test-takers aren't just failing the exams once but 3, 4, 10 even 12 times.

"You just feel so defeated," said Deanna Persaud who took the FTCE multiple times before she finally passed in  the spring.  

Kaitlyn Frank, who graduated from her college of education program is still struggling to pass after five attempts and five failures.

"It makes you feel stupid," she told us during a group interview with nearly a dozen failing and frustrated examinees.

"Something is wrong with the test, there's a flaw in the exam," said 13-year teacher veteran Maria D'Olea.  She's still struggling to pass the FELE after multiple attempts.

21-year veteran Julie McCue is now taking the FDOE to court over the essay portion of the FELE she's taken and failed four times.

"Something is wrong with this test," she told us.

The frustrations have many examinees questioning if the exams administered by controversial test giant, Pearson Vue, are flawed.

"We have a lot of research that shows the exams are not flawed," said Commissioner Stewart.  "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 that they are experts in the content area that they’re teaching," she told us.

The exams cost up to $200 per section to take.  Retakes cost an additional $20.  Prior to 2009, the tests cost examinees $25 per section.  The price difference represents a 780% increase.  According to a spokesperson with the FDOE, the tests used to be funded by the legislature and are now fully paid for by test-takers.  

The increase in failure rates have resulted in dramatic fall out at the state and local level.  Teachers who can't pass the FTCE test but have been able to teach in the classroom on a temporary certificate are losing their jobs, despite being considered effective or highly effective teachers.  Other districts, like Manatee County, are resorting to long- term substitutes to fill teacher spots left vacant because of this test.  Education programs at colleges/universities around the state are also struggling because of failure rates on the FTCE.  Enrollment is down so too, are graduation rates.  Without a passing score on the FTCE exam, students can't officially graduate from their programs.

When we started asking Commissioner Stewart about fees, she walked away and didn't return.

Pearson Vue has refused to answer our questions about the tests.  A spokesperson with the company referred us to Florida's Department of Education.