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Klein defends courier fees, says transporting tests is important

Chancellor Joel Klein is defending the estimated $5 million that the Department of Education will spend this year on couriers who hand-deliver documents between school locations. Juan Gonzalez at the Daily News reported on the expenses this morning.

A large portion of the expenses, $2 million, are being incurred by the Office of Accountability, which uses couriers to deliver a new set of tests to a computer center in Queens, so that they can be processed, Gonzalez reported. The interim assessments are given out in English and math and are meant to give teachers an idea of which skills and information their students are absorbing and which they aren’t before the annual standardized test.

Speaking to reporters covering the launch of the new Research Alliance for the city schools this morning, Chancellor Joel Klein defended the accountability office’s use of couriers. He said teachers deserve up-to-the-minute information on how their students are doing.

Klein added that ARIS, the new data warehouse that will be re-launched next month, could ease the expenses of transporting paper score reports. Some schools already use online tests, which have a faster turnaround time for scoring and require no courier expense.

Klein also said a portion of the courier costs go to delivering teacher paychecks, a process he said no one would dispute.

Still, there are a lot of questions that still aren’t answered:

  • Why can’t all tests be administered online? How much would it cost to switch to an online-only system?
  • Why doesn’t the contractor that is providing the interim assessments (at a cost of $80 million over five years) McGraw Hill, cover the costs of shuttling them between schools and Queens?
  • If a school hires a courier, does the school cover the cost or does the Department of Education?
  • How much of the courier costs were deliberate decisions to make deliveries by hand, and how many of them were efforts to cover up glitches in deliveries meant to be made by post? One example of the latter came in June, when the DOE hired a fleet of couriers driving unmarked black vans to deliver parents news of whether their children had been admitted to a gifted and talented program. The DOE had intended to send the letters by post but resorted to couriers after an embarrassing set of glitches marred another placement process, for prekindergarten.

Another question is how much of the $5 million goes to delivering teacher paychecks. Andrew Jacob, a DOE spokesman, said he’s getting back to me with that.

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