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Testers flunk examination

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  November 4, 2006 12:58 PM

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Remember the SAT scandal last March, when nearly 5,000 college-bound students learned that their tests had been misscored? That was no fluke, say Bloomberg reporters David Glovin and David Evans. Bad tests and faulty scoring, their new report says, have affected "at least 500,000 people taking tests from 2000 through 2006 -- from Nevada third graders to aspiring teachers."

The SAT snafu was a hardware problem, but human scorers are also fallible – and sometimes unqualified. Florida's testing contract specified that scorers would have bachelor's degrees in academic subjects, but the records show that promise wasn't kept:

A person from Hungary wrote he was a "pyshical education'' major. A physical education major from Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, wrote that she had attended "Methidist College.''

Sometimes the problem is the test itself:

In 2003, the Minnesota Department of Education found flaws in questions proposed by [its test provider]. About 6 percent had no correct answers or multiple correct answers.

Money, of course, plays a part, especially when companies bid on low-margin No Child Left Behind contracts.

Companies often scrimp when they bid on No Child contracts, Eduventures analyst Tim Wiley says. . . . ``As with any bidding situation, it definitely requires a lot of cost cutting,'' Wiley says. ``Or, in some cases, cutting corners.''

Educational Testing Service, which wrongly flunked 4,100 teachers on certification tests, will pay $11 million to settle their lawsuit. But one of those teachers, fired after four "failures" on the test, remains bitter: ``I was just about to get tenure, and I had to start all over again.''

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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