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[Susan notes: The letter writer provides good example to bolster her point.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Todd Farley argues that the main problem with open-ended standardized scoring is not so much the test itself but using untrained scorers. But as a teacher with a master̢۪s degree in writing who has scored standardized essays, I have found that the main problem indeed lies with the test itself.

In order to come up with a score, I have had to make snap judgments under time pressure about how the essay conforms to the rubric, which the testing company sets up to have a rigid, narrow set of values. As a scorer, I myself am valued if my responses conform to my peers̢۪, and at risk of being fired if I deviate too much from the group.

I have seen essays that are quirky, creative, bold, shocking or disturbing earn a lower score than safe, mediocre essays that conform to the established criteria. I remember a student response in rhymed couplets in the style of Pope that received a score of 4 out of 6 — rhyming and satire are not part of the scoring matrix.

The sad truth is that when we reduce something so complex as writing to a standardized scoring tool, we send the clear message that we value connect-the-dots thinking, conformity and mediocrity.

Diana Lambert

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