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Scoring of State Math and Reading Tests Is Almost Complete

Monday, May 14, 2012 - 07:03 AM

Teachers are logging their final hours of test grading this week, ending a process that some said took them out of classrooms at an inconvenient time and was less straightforward than many had hoped.

Education officials said about 3,000 teachers citywide scored the English tests, and another 2,500 are scoring the math exams. Scoring should be complete by Wednesday.

The grading has been done in groups of teachers from various schools, in centralized locations, for six hours a day, multiple days in a row. Teachers said the process was, at times, as confusing for them as some of the tests had been for students.

Some teachers said they had difficulties "norming" themselves to the grading rubric provided by Pearson, the test maker, because it required more rigid scoring then they would normally use to assess a student's performance.

"In some cases, the students wrote answers that were right in the middle of a gray area," said Sandy Cargile, a seventh-grade humanities teacher at N.Y.C. Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Chelsea.

Mr. Cargile missed five days of classes to grade third- and fourth-grade English-language arts exams in a room with about 40 other teachers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "You can't count interpretation, you can't count inference, you can't even count creative thinking," Mr. Cargile said, of scoring written answers to a listening passage on the third-grade test.

Richard Ng, a special education teacher at P.S. 134 Henrietta Szold on the Lower East Side, said he thought the instructions for scoring written passages were not very clear-cut.

"It was very vague as to what should have been a great score versus what should have been a poor score," he said.

Mr. Ng said teachers would trade papers around the table to get second and third opinions on scores, or would get advice from the testing coordinators in the room.

Besides the task itself, the teachers lamented missing five days of classes with just six weeks left in the school year.

Christina DiZebba, an eighth-grade literacy teacher at I.S. 289 in Battery Park City, said she was one of six teachers from her school of 300 students sent to score the tests, and she said students would inevitably suffer because of it.

"My school takes the spring really seriously," she said. "This is the time when we're preparing our eighth graders for high school. My social studies colleague that's on my grade level was out for five days, and then I'm out for five days and now the math teacher is out for five days. So, they're missing three weeks of instruction."

Ms. DiZebba also said the school had to cancel an annual eighth-grade festival honoring social activism, where students research a social justice issue over the course of the year and plan a culminating event to take place the first week of June. She said the testing and scoring schedule, along with the loss of instructional time, meant that teachers and students would not have enough days to pull it off.

The number of teachers that schools send to score the tests is based on a school's enrollment. Schools must pay for substitutes out of their own budgets or shuffle staff to cover classes.

The city's Education Department said state budget cuts prevented it from paying as many teachers to score tests outside of regular school hours. Shael Polakow-Suranksy, the city's chief academic officer, has said that costs associated with scoring the exams should fall on the state.

Teachers said if there was a silver lining to the task, it may be the camaraderie New York City teachers share with colleagues from other schools.

"We got along very, very well -- and that doesn't always happen," Mr. Cargile said.

"In years past, the grading took place in a large gym or cafeteria," he said, calling it a fairly cold process. "This year, it was done in smaller rooms and that made for more intimate relationships in the room itself. And, I think for the first time at the end of this, I wanted to keep the names and schools of people I was working with at my table."

Likewise, Ms. DiZebba said some aspect of grading the exams made her feel good about being a teacher.

"Because," she said, "here were these intelligent, caring, flexible people who were there wanting to do the best job that we could in a situation that all of us, I think, don't believe in."

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