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Some FCAT scorers don't make grade

A review of the applications, spurred by two senators, shows the test graders are as likely to be janitors as they are to be professionals.

Published June 13, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Some temporary workers hired to grade essay questions on the state's standardized tests apparently lacked degrees or college course work related to the subjects they were scoring, Florida Education Commissioner John Winn confirmed Monday.

Winn said he was taking steps to correct the problem discovered after two Democratic Senate leaders sued to obtain copies of applications from people paid $10 an hour by a state contractor to grade the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The commissioner, a former education policy coordinator for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, downplayed the significance of the problems. Winn said he remained confident none of the tests were incorrectly scored and refused to back off prior comments that the senators were on a "politically motivated fishing expedition" to discredit the FCAT.

"Even on political fishing expeditions sometimes you catch a few fish," Winn said. "So, I think a few fish were caught here. Fortunately, they weren't big ones."

Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac, disagreed with Winn's assessment and denied that he and Senate Democratic Leader Les Miller of Tampa are on political fishing trip.

"There were no checks and balances," Campbell said. "It's our interpretation we caught a whale. ... Privatization certainly again has failed the citizens of Florida."

Winn said CTB/McGraw-Hill, a California company with a contract to administer the FCAT, will be monitored to make sure graders have degrees or college course work related to the subjects they are grading, starting with next year's tests. The state also will develop guidelines to ensure there's no misunderstanding about acceptable background for each subject.

"There was less-than-satisfactory implementation of this contract," Winn said.

The company supports the state's goals and will continue working with the department "to further clarify hiring practices," said CTB/McGraw-Hill spokeswoman Kelley Carpenter.

She and Winn contended that other screening plus training and stringent monitoring ensured that the graders scored the test correctly.

Winn said the state cannot fine the company but will include the issue in an evaluation used to consider future contracts.

A review of the applications by aides to the Democratic senators shows the graders are as likely to be janitors, homemakers and store clerks as they are to have professional careers.

They have examined about half - 1,255 of more than 2,500 - job applications. So far, 674 graders appear to have no experience as educators or a degree directly related to the subjects they are grading.

Applications from the other 581 graders indicate they had an education background, teaching experience or related skills, but 353 provided no evidence to support their claims.

Campbell said some have degrees in such non-FCAT subjects as physical education or hospitality, and many come from foreign schools. He questioned their English skills.

The state settled a lawsuit by Campbell and Miller by agreeing to release the applications after identifying information - including names, addresses and Social Security numbers - was removed.

Democrats have criticized the use of the test to grade schools, which can result in loss of federal money for those who fail to improve sufficiently. This year's school grades are scheduled for release Wednesday.

[Last modified June 13, 2006, 04:53:09]

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