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Regents scoring issues continue to pile up as graduations near

Sweeping and serious problems with a new system for grading high school Regents exams persisted today, the date by which one set of tests was supposed to be completely graded.

The new system, designed to curb score inflation, requires teachers to report to central sites to grade answers that have been scanned and meted out by McGraw-Hill, the testing company. Educators from across the city are reporting that teachers were sent back to their schools early again today from grading sites because there were not enough essays to score. At other sites, scorers said they were told to stay put but not given papers to grade.

“We arrived at scoring today at 8:30 only to be sent away at 9,” wrote a commenter posting as AlvySinger in response to our story about the grading issues from Tuesday.

“1:08 pm. Nothing to grade,” another commenter wrote. The story has received nearly 50 comments from educators and others who are distressed about the scoring situation.

Several readers noted that a solution exists to a different issue that left some essays unreadable in the computer system — but that the fix requires compromising the anonymity of the exams, a main reason for the new scoring system in the first place.

“By simply hitting ‘zoom out’ on the computer settings, the student’s name, school and ID number (if they wrote it) is revealed — worked on EVERY test, EVERY time,” Queens wrote. “However, it allowed for the ‘blocked out’ parts from bad scans to be seen as well.”

The scoring delays are important because some seniors need to earn passing scores in order to graduate. The Department of Education told principals late Tuesday that they should bend the rules and allow seniors who have fulfilled all other requirements to participate in graduation ceremonies, with the caveat that they must be told that they won’t get a diploma until they have a passing exam score.

A teacher who is coordinating his school’s graduation ceremony, which takes place on Monday, said he’s been fielding calls from students who need to pass their Regents in order to graduate. They’ve called to ask if they can pick up their cap and gown or reserve seats for their parents, which they couldn’t do under the regular rules.

“If you’re a senior on the fence, waiting to see if you’re going to graduate, you’re pretty nervous” the teacher said. He estimated that 20 students, or about 10 percent, of students at his school are affected. “There’s not much I can tell them,” the teacher said. “We’re forced to tell them that it hasn’t been graded.”

The teacher called the situation at his testing center “a nightmare, to put it bluntly.” He said mornings have been busy — he’s graded about 40 essays per day — but that scanned tests slow to a trickle in the afternoon. He said he graded three essays yesterday between 12:30 and 3 p.m. Normally, he said he would be able to grade about 20 essays per hour.

Other problems with the electronic scoring system — being used for four frequently taken tests, in Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. history, and English — have teachers concerned that students’ scores could be negatively affected.

Those issues could be compounded as the department searches for educators to score exams after school and over the weekend. (McGraw-Hill will cover the overtime pay from its $3.5 million contract for the year, city officials said on Tuesday. Its total contract is for $9.6 million over three years.)

“I was just informed that I have been scheduled to grade the Geometry Regents over the next few days. I have taught High School ENGLISH for 14 years–why do I need to spend two days at another location grading a test I have no business being involved with?” wrote Kelli, a GothamSchools commenter.

“Exactly,” wrote Science Teacher, in response. “I was sent to grade Living Environment and I have never taught LE. Granted I am a science teacher and I understood the material, [but] there were other teachers way out of their own subject who were not well versed in the subject.”