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In Florida, School Test Graders Face Scrutiny

April 17, 2006|Susan Jacobson | Orlando Sentinel

Two state senators seeking information on the temporary workers who grade parts of Florida's high-stakes school exams are fuming after being told it is a "trade secret."

Senate Democratic leader Les Miller Jr. of Tampa and Sen. Walter G. "Skip" Campbell Jr. (D-Tamarac) requested the names and qualifications of test graders after learning they were being recruited in Central Florida for $10-an-hour jobs.

A letter issued last week by the state Department of Education informed the senators that CTB/McGraw-Hill, which administers the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test under state contract, considered the information a trade secret exempt from public disclosure.

"Basic common sense would tell you that if I'm representing to the people of the state of Florida that I've got all these qualified people, I'd at least know what the qualifications are," Campbell said.

He and Miller said they were considering whether to sue.

Campbell said the qualifications of graders were important because scores on the annual assessment test were used to grade public schools and to determine whether certain students could be promoted or graduate.

A new pay plan approved by the Florida Board of Education -- opposed by teacher unions and not yet final -- would tie teacher pay and bonuses to student performance, which equates to test scores in many cases. "There's a lot riding on this," Campbell said.

In a letter to the Department of Education, CTB/McGraw-Hill said the names of graders "would be of significant commercial value to our competitors" and "subject scorers to potential intimidation and attempts to influence their work."

Department spokeswoman Cathy Schroeder said her office would honor CTB/McGraw-Hill's position.

A CTB/McGraw-Hill spokeswoman, Kelley Carpenter, said recruiting temporary scorers was a common practice in the assessment industry because of the seasonal nature of the work.

The company enlisted the Kelly Services agency to hire several hundred workers in Florida.

The graders must have a bachelor's degree in a field related to the subject of the essay and short-answer responses that they score.

Critics say a background in education, more training in assessment test scoring and perhaps an advanced degree should be required.

"If my kid is being graded by someone who doesn't have an education in the subject matter, then I can't see how they can grade my child," Campbell said.

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