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Education and standardized lunacy

Every time I start to buy into the standardized-testing-is-good mindset, I come across a story like this one to make me think we've lost our collective minds, or at least fallen prey to a multi-billion-dollar industry intent on sucking up every tax dollar earmarked for schools.

The writer, Dan DiMaggio, spent four months scoring thousands of tests for two test-scoring companies.

"Test-scoring companies make their money by hiring a temporary workforce each spring, people willing to work for low wages (generally $11 to $13 an hour), no benefits, and no hope of long-term employment—not exactly the most attractive conditions for trained and licensed educators," DiMaggio writes. "So all it takes to become a test scorer is a bachelor's degree, a lack of a steady job, and a willingness to throw independent thinking out the window and follow the absurd and ever-changing guidelines set by the test-scoring companies. Some of us scorers are retired teachers, but most are former office workers, former security guards, or former holders of any of the diverse array of jobs previously done by the currently unemployed. When I began working in test scoring three years ago, my first "team leader" was qualified to supervise, not because of his credentials in the field of education, but because he had been a low-level manager at a local Target."

And this:

"Scorers often emerge from training more confused than when they started. Usually, within a day or two, when the scores we are giving are inevitably too low (as we attempt to follow the standards laid out in training), we are told to start giving higher scores, or, in the enigmatic language of scoring directors, to "learn to see more papers as a 4." For some mysterious reason, unbeknownst to test scorers, the scores we are giving are supposed to closely match those given in previous years. So if 40 percent of papers received 3s the previous year (on a scale of 1 to 6), then a similar percentage should receive 3s this year."

DiMaggio explains that he wrote the piece to affirm the observations of Todd Farley, author of "Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry." It is described as a "scathing insider's account" of the testing industry.

I'm going to keep a copy of DiMaggio's article handy and check out Farley's book. They will be helpful reminders of the absurdity of evaluating students, teachers and entire schools on low-paid, piece-rate workers.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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