Principals Criticize Increased Costs of Test Scoring

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Add this to the many complaints being made this year about the statewide standardized tests:

City principals are grumbling that their teachers will have to spend more time away from classes this month scoring state math and English tests because of cutbacks in financing that had previously been used to pay the teachers to do the scoring after school.

Not only are the schools losing the teachers' time. The scoring is now done during the school day, and when teachers are pulled out to score the exams, the school must spend more money to bring in substitutes to cover classes.

Many principals say the new policy is eating up thousands of dollars from their already taut budgets, not to mention disrupting schedules and interrupting learning at a time when many students are already thinking that the school year is done and the spring weather is beckoning.

"The test scoring will cost us $11,625," said Liz Phillips, principal of Public School 321 William Penn in Park Slope.

Teachers do not score the answers to multiple choice questions, which are scanned, but they do score the written answers. This year's exams have more written questions than usual as part of the shift to new standards.

The scoring is done at a few designated locations in the city, and though teachers do not score exams from their own school, the number of teachers from each school who are allotted for the scoring is based on that school's enrollment.

At P.S. 321, which has nearly 1,400 pre-K to fifth grade students, this means five teachers must be allotted for scoring. And with the increase in written answers, it means three additional days of scoring this year than last. The cost of 15 substitute days, at $155 per teacher, adds up to $2,325 more than last year, Ms. Phillips said.

"In addition to the monetary cost, the fact that we are losing 75 instructional days (times we have to hire subs) is huge," she said, referring to the total amount of time spent on taking and scoring exams.

A Bronx principal, who didn't want to be identified, echoed her concern:

"I have five teachers missing three weeks of their teaching responsibilities, which has to hurt student performance in the long run."

And a school staff member, writing anonymously, provided a detailed accounting of the hours and costs to the school. "A school can pay their way out of sending teachers ($18,000 for our school), but we have no budget for that after four years of cuts," the writer said.

The city's Department of Education blamed Albany for budget cuts that have left it without the resources to pay teachers to work late scoring exams.

“The costs associated with the scoring of state exams should be a state responsibility, like it is in virtually every other state across the country," said the city's chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky. "Historically, our central offices have helped offset some school-level expenses, but this year, due to the recent economic downturn, we have had to reduce our funding for after-school scoring.”

Principals say the added costs are especially difficult to absorb after five years of consecutive budget cuts. John O'Reilly, co-director of the Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn, estimates that he's spending $4,200 this year on two substitute teachers to cover classrooms while teachers score the exams. He said he would have needed three, but the other co-director of his school will help score the exams to help save money.

The math and English tests for grades 3-8 are longer this year, and will each take about three hours to complete. The state is throwing in more questions as it phases in the Common Core Learning Standards, and field-tests questions for future exams, meaning they are being vetted for possible inclusion on future tests. The tests were developed by the Pearson company.

However, State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said "it should not take any longer to score this year's test than last year's test," because Pearson's staff members -- not district teachers -- will score the questions that have been added to this year's exams for field testing.

The anonymous school staff member created a list of questions for state and city officials about the scoring process. Among them:

Why is grading the tests not part of the contract negotiated with the testing company?

Why is grading not coming out of the profit the testing company is making, instead of out of the budget and classroom time of schools and

And some Brooklyn parents were circulating a petition to Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and Mr. Polakow-Suransky, calling on them to negotiate with the state to remove all field questions. They complained that this amounts to a "public subsidy" for the testing company, Pearson, which is under contract with the state.

However, Mr. Dunn said Pearson developed the tests specifically for New York State, making them state property that the company can't profit from by selling to other states.