Another Reason To Opt Your Kid Out Of Smarter Balanced: Human Scorers

Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

So your kid Tim takes the English part of the smarter balanced test.  Comes home, you ask him how he did.  He says okay I guess.  You pat Tim on the head and he goes back the next day to do the same thing all over again.  He doesn’t learn anything new that day because all the teachers are running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off trying to get all the computer stations set up, but the damn bandwidth in the building is too low.  They thought they would have enough, but it’s wreaking havoc on the system.  Even the principals and administrative staff are told to get off their computers.

Meanwhile, in another state, a human scorer named Rob walks into his $13.00 an hour temp job he got online.  He has some teaching experience cause he did a year with TFA.  Enough to get him the job.  He looks at your child’s essay on the Declaration of Independence.  He reads the essay and gets the rubric sheet out.  He doesn’t necessarily agree with everything in the Declaration, but he has to remain objective.  But guess what, he’s getting paid $13 an hour to look at snot-nosed kids writing about stuff he used to teach.  He’s reading and grading, reading and grading.  Starts to think about how much time off he will need from his other job to go to the Burning Man Festival.  Then he starts thinking about how much money he will need for the ten hour drive.  Is Wendy going to go with him?  They’ve had problems lately.  He’s sick of her making him pay for everything.  She has the good job.  He’s stuck grading kids stupid tests.  And after he’s done with Tim’s essay, he has to read 200 more by the end of the day.  All about that piece of paper signed in 1776.  It’s not rocket science, it’s history he says to himself.  Already frustrated, he wanders off from the rubric.  Says a “screw it” to himself.

Tim takes the Math part of Smarter Balanced a few days later.  He comes home looking like five miles of bad road.  You can tell he’s been crying.  Tells you he couldn’t finish the section and he has to wait until next week.  What if he forgets everything?  He won’t eat that night.  He feels like a failure.  This was your smartest kid.  He got As and Bs since Kindergarten.  Won’t get up the next morning.  Says he has a headache.  You tell him he has to, and after 10 minutes of arguing, you both get in the car.  You can tell he didn’t brush his teeth, but you don’t have time to go back.  Another week comes by, he comes home, tells you he finished the math.  How’d you do?  Not good Mom.  I think I failed.

Two weeks later Suzie is five weeks into grading Math essays.  She’s surprised she doesn’t have cataracts by how many times she has rolled her eyes grading these things.  Today is harder cause she was out until 3am with the girls.  The hangover isn’t so bad now.  Head still hurts a little, but she only has six hours left on her shift.  She got stuck with the lemons essay.  You have 10 lemons, each squeezes out 1.5 ounces of juice, and you need to make 16 ounces.  Do you have enough?  She gets Tim’s test.  He answered no.  You only have enough to make 15 ounces.  Suzie pulls out the rubric, and skims it over.  Out of a score of 2, this kid gets a 1.  He got it right, but his explanation was wrong.  She hates doing this, and thinks its stupid, but she needs this job. It’s been very rough for her since the school she taught at got converted into a charter school.  She thought she would make the cut when she applied to Hope Springs Eternal Academy, but they hired all those Relay and TFA grads.  She spends her days working at Home Depot in the paint section watching soccer Moms take hours to decide on what shade of tan they want for their dining room, and then she goes straight to here to grade math essays.  She’s glad she has the time and doesn’t sleep much, gives her more time to go out with her friends from the closed school so they can complain about what they lost.  She won’t tell them she has to grade the same kinds of tests that closed her school.  She looks at the next one, another kid from the same school writes yes.  He wrote a big long essay about the possibility one of the lemons could be bigger.  Even though it didn’t say this in the introduction, he gets a 2 because of his “critical thinking”. Wrong answer, good score, right answer, lower score. All day long. Suzie wants to get drunk again tonight.

You get the mail and find out Tim is below proficiency.  What the hell happened?  He was honor roll up until this year.  Then he started coming home with all that strange homework his very intelligent Dad couldn’t even get.  She heard about parents opting their kids out, but she thought Tim was so smart it wouldn’t matter.  She goes inside as Tim is on the Xbox again.  Won’t do his homework anymore.  Starting to get lippy with both her and his father.  She feels like she has lost her son.

This is what will happen all over Delaware starting next month.  Don’t be Tim’s Mom.  Opt your child out now!

16 thoughts on “Another Reason To Opt Your Kid Out Of Smarter Balanced: Human Scorers

  1. So, a few comments. I’m sure you’ll agree with some of those thoughts much more than others. Also, just so that you understand my viewpoint, I’m actually not in favor of high stakes testing. I would also say that I’m probably not quite as opposed to it as you are either.

    1) You very accurately described what testing days are like in schools. It sucks. Computers don’t work. Students are switching around trying to find one that works. IT infrastructure in schools is pretty pitiful. Administering DCAS was roughly equivalent to a level of hell. One of my worst days teaching was when I had a student break down crying during a test from stress.

    2) There are tons of reasonably important tests that use human scoring (GMAT, GRE, SAT, APs, etc.). Are you saying that we should never have human scoring? Should we rely entirely on giving our students multiple choice tests? Should our students not write essays or not be able to explain how they came to a solution? I’m struggling with how having human scorers could possibly be something you could use to rail against SBAC or PARCC (unless you also think that they should not be used in those other tests that I previously mentioned).

    3) I don’t quite understand your vilification of individual TFA teachers. The overall organization is one thing – I understand those criticisms. I have quite a few myself. However, the individual teachers in the program tend to be pretty amazing people. How is it relevant if a person is interested in going to Burning Man? Is a person not qualified for a job because of this or because of an interest in night life? Is your implication here that no young person should be allowed to work a job like this because they may want to have a social life?

    4) Your argument about receiving partial or no credit for incorrectly getting a correct answer is interesting (I also listened to the podcast you were featured in and heard some further explanation about this scenario there).

    Here’s where I struggle with this. I taught high school math. Every once in a while my students would complete a word problem – something pretty difficult – and get the incorrect answer. When reviewing their work, I realized that my student got the incorrect answer because of a small mistake. Otherwise, all of the logic and reasoning that they used was fantastic. I would be disappointed that they got the wrong answer, as would they, but ultimately would be quite proud of them for their work. It was quite clear that they understood the content. On the opposite side of this, there were many times where I would have a student with no concept of what work we were doing in class, but by chance would get the correct answer. This student would still receive credit, but ultimately they did not know what they were talking about. Their work indicated to me a complete lack of understanding of the content.

    Typically, the student whose work was more correct would receive a better score. I don’t actually know any teacher who would do something different than this (at least a math teacher – I’m certainly much less familiar with grading practices for other content areas). Why is it that this would be okay in a math classroom, but the same practice would not be okay on SBAC or PARCC?


  2. Really quick on your last point… the multiple choices sections are done by machine. Human scorers are used for essays.

    Some essays are not scored by machine too. The difference between your perception and the reality, is the amount of time you took to grade, and the amount of time these scorers are given… You at least knew the names of who you graded; these people don’t… These people have bosses who do not allow for any deviation from the standard… Does it have 0, 1-2,2-3,3-4, or over 5 compound words? Does it use complicated verbs, or simple ones. How many adverbs, or adjectives describe each sentence? These graders are grading things you as a former teacher never looked for… In fact it is possible to write a completely non-sensical sentence with big words, and get a 5 on these tests.

    But in a roundabout way you do put your finger on the problem. We need more teachers like you were, and less robots, human or otherwise.

    None of us were run through a gauntlet of testing as are these children. We turned out ok.. They aren’t… Common Core and Standardized testing are putting them behind. What they need is a teacher who knows them and cares enough for them to teach….

    That is the only way we learn.


    1. I haven’t actually seen anything indicating how the grading will be done (human scorers vs machine scoring). Would you mind linking me to a source showing that breakdown? I’m quite curious. Some quick Googling didn’t find anything particularly worthwhile.

      Just to push back on you a bit, I don’t think it’s a problem that someone won’t know the name of a student whose work they are grading. I actually think that tends to make it impartial. In fact, I would often switch grading with other teachers in my department in order to ensure impartiality in our grading – neither of us knew each other’s students, so therefore we were neutral in our grading.

      Going a bit further, I’m not sure if I can agree with your assessment of how it will be scored – “bosses who do not allow for any deviation from the standard”. Without any actual testing being done yet, we’re really just making conjecture as to what could happen. This isn’t to say that it couldn’t happen, but we just don’t actually know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the problems with this test will happen long before it even gets to the scorers. Did you teach in Delaware? And by the way, I have nothing against the Burning Man Festival. It just popped up in my mind while writing about “Tim”. My problems with TFA and similar programs is that they are often pit stops for these individuals, and it disrupts schools tremendously. To put it this way, would you want your heart surgeon to be experienced and gone through the whole process to get to that point, or would you want someone who did a fast-track course in 5 weeks or so to open you up? Why would any parent want the same for their children. And to make matters worse, then these individuals are making their next pit stop at other corporate education companies or God forbid, departments of education. They are then using their “expertise” to implement new ways at allowing more of “them” in our schools while coming up with new methods to “evaluate” regular teachers while they aren’t held to the same standard.


        1. Yes, I taught in Delaware.

          My concern was less with your opinions against TFA (and Burning Man for that matter – I recognize you were using that as a narrative feature). Tons of people have expressed those opinions before and your views of the organization are well aligned with those opinions. That’s totally fine. Like I said, I have areas of concern with TFA as well, though nowhere near as deep as yours are.

          My concern was more with your general treatment of the idea of who a TFA corps member is. Your picture of them as human beings is almost comically negative, as evidenced by “Rob”. The truth is that your average corps member is actually a pretty fantastic person. To me, it’s one thing to demonize the organization, but an entirely separate thing to demonize its teachers. Say whatever else you want about TFA, but if there’s one thing that it’s exceptionally good at, it’s finding phenomenal talent.

          I’m unsure of the extent to which you’ve interacted with people from the organization before, but I would encourage you to do so before making such deep opinions of their character. You might be surprised by how well a lot of your commentary here would align with their views.


          1. My thing with “Rob” in the story was comically negative. I’m sure Rob’s a very nice person. But like all of us, we get distracted, we get sidetracked. It’s what makes us “us”. I’ve met a few, and you’re right, they’re super nice. And you’re also right, I can’t stand the organization and what they have done to disrupt education. But imagine, if you will, someone grading 3rd grade essays all day long.


          2. Just saying, I’ve read a good number of your articles here – certainly close to all of them for the past couple of months. I see that portrayal pretty regularly.

            Grading essays day after day, seemingly endlessly, would be awful. That is totally legitimate – no way around it. I would still rather have open-ended questions rather than multiple choice questions on an exam. Perhaps the open-ended questions come with some drawbacks to them – endless grading being one of them – but that still seems like a step in the right direction. Perhaps that is just a point to which we can disagree.


          3. Just because someone is a nice person doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty by association. Some of the most well-meaning folks in the history of the world have been caught up in movements or policy that are controversial at best. I don’t think history judges the individuals too much (unless they were actual leaders) but the system. This is what I am talking about. If many of their thoughts and opinions align with my own, why don’t they speak up? I hear “regular” teachers all the time. Not a day goes by where I’m not in contact with many teachers and parents about these issues. But I have yet to hear a TFA employee speak out against common core or standardized testing. Or the massive discrimination and oftentimes, segregation that occurs in many schools as a result of the increase in charter schools. I believe TFA is merely a “temp” organization for schools, and I believe our children need more than that. They need long-term commitment and they already had that. I’m not saying “regular” teachers are perfect, but I don’t think they are nearly as bad as the corporate education reformers paint them on their profit-making canvas.


          4. Here’s my basic problem with TFA. They get information on the teaching profession at a very quick pace. They are also almost “brainwashed” with the very ideology behind the corporate education reform movement. I’ve seen it time and time again. They actually believe what they are saying. I have no problem with someone’s belief system and talking about it as long as it doesn’t adversely impact a huge amount of lives. Unfortunately, that is the case with education in America these days. There is a very strong movement against public school district teachers and the unions behind them. This is causing unheard of disruptions in classrooms, and students are suffering the most. I’ve heard many refer to this movement as “progress”, and it is if you lived in the USSR in 1920.


  3. Agree somewhat on impartiality. But you have described two scenarios. One where you graded tests and child responded brilliantly but had a wrong answer due to something silly, and the other where you gave tests to other teachers to perform who did not know the student they were grading.

    Scenario one, you made a subjective decision. based in part on what you knew about that student… We all agree it was the right thing to do. One can’t have cake and eat it two, so impartiality though good in some instances, is not good in all instances… If given the balance, being graded by someone who knows you, is always preferable…


    1. I’m not sure I entirely agree with you – I think making a subjective decision about scoring is still possible to do even in the scenario of grading a student you have never met. I know that I have done this in grading students that I haven’t met in the past. Once again, I only speak from the context of math, so please take this with a grain of salt.

      Also, thank you for linking that article to me above. I’ve certainly seen (quite a few) articles similar to this. I was hoping to find something about methodology for scoring being used for SBAC/PARCC specifically, though perhaps that doesn’t quite exist yet.


  4. You DO know that there is no “option” not to have your student take the test right? There’s national law, state law, common sense … do you have any grasp of any of these very basic things?


    1. Whew! Good thing I’m not a teacher! I’m a parent, and I have every right. It’s called a Constitutional right. Can you point me to the very specific Delaware state code that states I cannot opt out my child? Can you point me to the national law? And common sense, I have much of that. I want my child to have more common sense than common core.


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