Guess who’s scoring those ‘brief constructed responses’?

This was written by one of the scorers. You can find the entire article here.

(It’s called “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Scorer.”)

“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. 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.

“In the test-scoring centers in which I have worked, located in downtown St. Paul and a Minneapolis suburb, the workforce has been overwhelmingly white—upwards of 90 percent. Meanwhile, in many of the school districts for which these scores matter the most—where officials will determine whether schools will be shut down, or kids will be held back, or teachers fired—the vast majority are students of color. As of 2005, 80 percent of students in the nation’s twenty largest school districts were youth of color. The idea that these cultural barriers do not matter, since we are supposed to be grading all students by the same standard, seems far-fetched, to say the least. Perhaps it would be better to outsource the jobs to India, where the cultural gap might, in some ways, be smaller.

“Many test scorers have been doing this job for years—sometimes a decade or more. Yet these are the ultimate in temporary, seasonal jobs. The Human Resources people who interview and hire you are temps, as are most of the supervisors. In one test-scoring center, even the office space and computers were leased temporarily. Whenever I complained about these things, some coworker would inevitably say, “Hey, it beats working at Subway or McDonald’s.”

“True, but does it inspire confidence to know that, for the people scoring the tests at the center of this nation’s education policy, the alternative is working in fast food? Or to know that, because of our low wages and lack of benefits, many test scorers have to work two jobs—delivering newspapers in the morning, hustling off to cashier or waitress at night, or, if you’re me (and plenty of others like me) heading home to start a second shift of test scoring for another company?

“Company communications with test-scoring employees often feel like they have been lifted from a Kafka novel. Scorers working from home almost never talk to an actual human being. Pearson sends all its communications to home scorers via e-mail, now supplemented by automated phone calls telling you to check your inbox. After the start of a project, even these e-mails cease, and scorers are forced to check the project homepage on their own initiative to find out any important changes. Remarkably, for a company entrusted with assessing students’ educational performance, messages from Pearson contain a disturbing number of misspellings, incorrect dates, typos, and missing information. Pearson’s online video orientation, for example, warns scorers that they may face “civil lawshits” from sexual harassment. Error-free communications are rare. I was considering whether this was a fair assessment, when I received a message from Pearson with the subject “Pearson Fall 2010.” The link in the e-mail took me to a survey to find out my availability—for the spring of 2011.”

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