From Monthly Review:
Standardized testing has become central to education policy in the United States. After dramatically expanding in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, testing has been further enshrined by the Obama administration’s $3.4 billion “Race to the Top” grants. Given the ongoing debate over these policies, it might be useful to hear about the experiences of a hidden sector of the education workforce: those of us who make our living scoring these tests. Our viewpoint is instructive, as it reveals the many contradictions and absurdities built into a test-scoring system run by for-profit companies and beholden to school administrators and government officials with a stake in producing inflated numbers. Our experiences also provide insight into how the testing mania is stunting the development of millions of young minds.
I recently spent four months working for two test-scoring companies, scoring tens of thousands of papers, while routinely clocking up to seventy hours a week. This was my third straight year doing this job. While the reality of life as a test scorer has recently been chronicled by Todd Farley in his book Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry, a scathing insider’s account of his fourteen years in the industry, I want to tell my story to affirm that Farley’s indictment is rooted in experiences common throughout the test-scoring world.
“Wait, someone scores standardized tests? I thought those were all done by machines.” This is usually the first response I get when I tell people I’ve been eking out a living as a test-scoring temp. The companies responsible for scoring standardized tests have not yet figured out a way to electronically process the varied handwriting and creative flourishes of millions of third to twelfth graders. Nor, to my knowledge, have they begun to outsource this work to India. Instead, every year, the written-response portions of innumerable standardized tests given across the country are scored by human beings—tens of thousands of us, a veritable army of temporary workers.
I often wonder who students (or teachers and parents, for that matter) picture scoring their papers. When I was a student, I envisioned my tests being graded by qualified teachers in another part of the country, who taught the grade level and subject corresponding to the tests. This idea, it turns out, is as much a fantasy as imagining all the tests are being scored by machines.
Test scoring is a huge business, dominated by a few multinational corporations, which arrange the work in order to extract maximum profit.