Grading Mistakes Caused More Than 4,000 Would-Be Teachers to Fail a Licensing Exam
Ohanian Comment:Great line from Bob Schaeffer: There is more public oversight of the pet-food industry than there is for test makers.
I wonder how ETS will compensate people who failed to get jobs because they "failed" the test.
Mistakes in the scoring of an examination that 18 states use in licensing teachers caused more than 4,000 people who should have passed it to fail instead, the Educational Testing Service said yesterday. The errors may have prevented many from getting full-time jobs as teachers in the last year.
Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which looks skeptically on standardized testing, said the grading errors were only the latest instance of quality-control problems in the industry at a time when testing was growing sharply.
"This particular test is being used to determine who is a highly qualified teacher, which is a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind law," Mr. Schaeffer said. "But there is no equivalent requirement that the test makers be highly qualified. There is more public oversight of the pet-food industry than there is for test makers."
The errors are an embarrassment for E.T.S. at a time when it is aggressively pursuing new business but is also facing increased competition from other testing companies and problems in its long collaboration with the College Board, which oversees the SAT tests, taken by many students to get into college.
The errors occurred from January 2003 to April 2004. During that time, the test - the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching for Grades 7 to 12, called the Praxis P.L.T. 7-12 - was given eight times, to a total of about 40,000 people.
The testing service began notifying state education departments last Friday afternoon that many of those scored as failing had in fact passed, and started calling the candidates themselves on Saturday.
It said it would reimburse the candidates the $115 it cost each to take the test and would also pay them for materials they used to prepare. The cost of test reimbursement alone will be close to half a million dollars.
Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, said that it had noticed lower scores than usual on two administrations of the test, but that "we thought there were valid explanations for why the scores were lower."
"But when we investigated further," Mr. Ewing said, "we discovered that the short-essay questions were being graded more stringently than normal."
Mr. Ewing said that he did not know how many points were added once the tests were rescored, but that when the process was finished, about 4,100 test takers had moved from failing to passing. It is impossible to say how many of those had been turned away from teaching jobs in the meantime.
Among larger states that use this Praxis exam are Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland. (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut do not.) Scores range from 100 to 200, and each state has its own passing score.
Besides calling state officials and test takers, the testing service has a toll-free phone line (800-205-2626) for more information. A recording at that number yesterday said that the company was "very sorry that this has occurred" and that it was "committed to addressing any concerns this issue may raise for you."
One person who heard from the testing service on Saturday was Paul Perrea, a 44-year-old electrical engineer in Cincinnati, who wants to teach high school physics. He has already scored well on the Praxis physics exam, as well as on other science exams. But last December he learned that he had failed the Praxis P.L.T. exam.
"I've had a good career in computers, and I thought it was time to give back," Mr. Perrea said. "I wanted to teach in inner-city Cincinnati, where they really need good science teachers."
Mr. Perrea said he was a good test taker and had always had the kind of standardized-test scores "that other people are envious of." So when he got his Praxis scores in December, he was stunned to find that he had not met Ohio's cutoff. Last year he taught high school math as a long-term substitute, but he said he had had trouble finding work as a full-time teacher for next year.
J. C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said his agency still viewed the test as useful.
"Certainly there is a teacher shortage," Mr. Benton said. "But E.T.S. has been upfront about contacting us about the error, and we look forward to continuing to work with them."
Karen W. Arenson
New York Times
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