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Schools Consider Relief for Test Time

ALBANY. Facing a mandate to triple the number of exams it must give and score each year, the state Education Department is considering a plan to scan elementary and middle school tests into a vast computer bank, which would allow teachers to digitally score them over the Internet.

They are hoping this would prevent a worsening of the state's annual test-scoring mess, when hundreds of teachers from around the state are pulled out of their classrooms and brought to regional centers to score the fourth- and eighth-grade English and math exams. This has long been a headache for schools, which must hire substitute teachers to fill the gap.

That headache is likely to worsen by 2006, when, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, New York will have to test students in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Scanning the tests is an example of how states nationwide are going digital in hopes of easing the administrative burden of expanded testing mandated by the act.

The state Board of Regents is scheduled to discuss the plan, known as "distributive scoring," during its meeting this week. The proposal remains in its formative stages and no final decision has been made, although Texas and Colorado have started using a similar system, said Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus.

"We're trying to figure out ways to streamline the process," he said.

Under New York's concept, distributive scoring would be used for the essay portions of the English exams. Students would write their essays on scannable paper, and teachers who participate in the scoring would have a password to log on to a Web site and score the exams.

That way, they could work their scoring duties into their normal school day, perhaps carving out an hour at a time. "The technology is there to do it," Kadamus said.

Under the current system, teachers spend several days in regional centers, usually set up by local Board of Cooperative Educational Services, where they score the exams en masse. They don't score their own students, though, state officials said.

That creates a panic for many schools, which complain that they can barely get enough substitutes to cover classes during those periods.

There are potential pitfalls to distributive scoring, though, including the cost, which is not yet known. Additionally, Kadamus said, the current system is seen as a way for teachers to meet and exchange ideas, which would be eliminated with digital scoring.

While Colorado and Texas have outsourced testing and scoring to private firms, New York plans to continue to have teachers score the tests, said Kadamus.

The plan is emblematic of how states are looking for ever-greater efficiency in their testing regimens, said Kathy Christie, director of the Information Clearinghouse at the Education Commission of the States, which follows national K-12 issues.

"Everybody is struggling with the amount of tests, and we're predicting computers could play a much larger role in that," Christie said.

One of the nation's biggest test-givers, the College Board, plans to use distributive scoring in the new essay portion of its English test, which will start next March, said spokeswoman Kristin Carnahan.

"We'll have readers (test scorers) all over the country, and the essays will be sent all over the country," Carnahan said.

Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at rkarlin@timesunion.com.

— Rick Karlin
Albany Times Union


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