Teachers are preparing students for the first week in April when the all important STAAR test will be given. The test determines whether a student passes or repeats a grade. Passing the exam is also required to graduate.
But Pearson Testing, the company with a $1 billion contract from the state of Texas to administer the test through 2015, uses Craigslist to solicit people to grade it.
"That is either retention in a grade or the awarding of a diploma and they are going to advertise on Craigslist to pay someone $12 an hour with a degree to come and grade this test," said Rena Honea with Alliance AFT.
"My first reaction was that's ridiculous," added Julie Greer, a parent. "With three kids and one who has taken the STAAR test, he's studied for it since he was in eighth grade for this test. And, I don't know if you can teach someone overnight or in a short little time how to grade what he's studied so long to take."
The Craigslist ad solicits people with a bachelor's degree in any subject. It says graders will be trained and paid $12 an hour to grade the English or written portion of the tests.
"People come in and it's a temporary job and they are given limited amounts of instruction and then they are sent out to grade these tests, particularly writing tests are subjective," said Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken.
Pauken sent a concerned letter to the state board of education about the issue.
"We've got an education policy driven by a high-stakes testing system and a for-profit company," he said.
When it comes to grading the STAAR exam, Honea said she has a better idea.
"We have many retired educators that were English teachers, writing teachers who would probably be more than happy to come and grade this test," she said.
Pauken is fed up with it all.
"My view is you got a system that's fundamentally flawed and I think we need to toss it out," he said.
In a statement the Texas Education Agency said it is "fully aware that the Pearson Testing company utilizes multiple employment avenues to secure and adequately train qualified candidates. Pearson carefully trains the graders, and experienced supervisors oversee the work to ensure that essays are graded in a fair and consistent manner."
While the TEA is satisfied Pearson is meeting its contractual requirements, parents, educators and the commissioner of the state's workforce are not sure. They feel there are other options to graduation rather than one test.
UPDATE 1-24-13: We want to clarify that TEA is paying Pearson half a billion dollars for a contract for the 2010-2015 period. The figure of one billion plus is related to what they have been paid in the past plus this current contract. For more details, see the information provided by Pearson.
Just the Facts: How Pearson Hires Test Scorers
Some have raised questions about Pearson's recruitment of test scorers in Texas, including advertisements in Craigslist. Here are the facts:
• Pearson conducts an exhaustive search for the very best people to score student tests. Pearson works with the same employment resources used by school systems across the state such as the Austin, Houston and San Antonio independent school districts to promote career opportunities.
• Pearson advertises broadly for qualified test scorers. The extensive search for test scorers in Texas includes advertisements with 21 different organizations and publications including the National Council of Teachers of English, the Austin American-Statesman newspaper and the Texas Workforce Commission.
Here is a list of publications and organizations with which Pearson advertised as part of the search for test scorers:
─ The Chronicle of Higher Education
─ The English Journal
─ The Council Chronicle
─ Education Week
─ American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
─ National Council of Teachers of English
─ Austin American Statesman
─ Austin Job Finder
─ El Mundo
─ The University of Texas at Austin
─ St. Edwards University
─ Huston-Tillotson University
─ Texas State University
─ Texas Workforce Commission
─ Austin Chronicle
• Texas school districts such as the Austin, Houston and San Antonio independent school districts, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University, and many other organizations also advertise career opportunities on Craigslist.
• All test scorers hired by Pearson must have at least a four-year degree and undergo very rigorous, state-approved training before they are allowed to begin work. As part of this rigorous training, applicants must complete and pass practice sets before being eligible to work. The rigorous training program for scorers was developed with the Texas Education Agency, and TEA must approve all final training materials.
• Of the 4,059 total scorers in Texas, 2911 (71 percent) have at least one year of teaching experience, 3,385 (83 percent) have at least a writing-related four-year college degree, and 1,114 (27 percent) have at least a four-year college degree in English.
• Scorers are closely monitored on a daily basis, with each student test carefully reviewed by two scorers, to ensure that scores are accurate and reliable.
• Pearson is a proud part of the Texas economy, with more than 1,800 full time and 2,425 part time employees—many former educators—working at Pearson's Texas offices in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Pearson also contracted with more than 80 women or minority-owned Texas businesses last year.
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