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With Regents delays stretching on, city recruits overtime scorers

The Department of Education is desperately recruiting teachers to make up for Regents exam scoring time that CTB/McGraw-Hill lost.

The department needs thousands of graders to work through tens of thousands of test questions that were supposed to be scored already. The scoring hit snags because of breakdowns in the electronic process that the testing company set up, leaving students without scores as high school graduations begin.

“As you know, there have been problems in processing and scanning exam materials for the June Global and US History exams which have resulted in delays grading these exams,” reads an email that history teachers received late Wednesday. Later, it notes, “Participation is voluntary, and we encourage you to consider taking part in this activity and help to complete the scoring of these exams in as timely a manner as possible.”

Several teachers said they and their colleagues were torn about whether to take the overtime offer, which would net them just under $42 an hour on Friday night and over the weekend.

“On one hand, we want to help our kids. But on the other, we are all fed up and frustrated,” one Queens teacher said. “It’s not easy building the willpower to bail out a terribly defective and unnecessary grading system.”

The overtime pay will come out of McGraw-Hill’s $9.6 million, three-year contract to operate the test arrangement, devised to curb score inflation. The state increased test security requirements this year, but the city opted for even more stringent measures aimed at preventing teachers from scoring exams taken by students at their schools.

McGraw-Hill said the delays had been caused by “intermittent slowdowns in the process that transforms digital images from scanned exam booklets and readies them for scoring by teachers” and that it was working “around the clock” to speed up the scanning.

“We regret the impact on the teachers and the NYC Department of Education affected by the delays and will continue to focus on resolving the issue as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement.

Comptroller John Liu, whose job is to monitor the city’s fiscal security, called on the city to reclaim the money it has paid McGraw-Hill. He also proposed a solution that is not allowed under state regulations, to invalidate the four tests whose scoring had been outsourced to the company.

“It is unconscionable that students, families, and schools should suffer through fake graduations because their Regents grades are unknown,” Liu said. “The more than $3 million paid to McGraw-Hill should be returned to the city immediately, the grades students received on their regular final exams in these subject areas should be substituted for the Regents, and normal graduations should go on starting today and through the rest of the school year.”

Instead, commencement ceremonies began today with students whose scores have not yet been calculated participating only provisionally. Students who have fulfilled all requirements except passing Regents exams are being allowed to walk at graduation, as long as they and their parents acknowledge that they won’t get a diploma until their test scores come in.

“For the children and the students involved, it’s probably the worst thing the school system could have done to them, because it will take away the joy they should feel at their graduations,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Mulgrew plans to kick off his Friday morning with teachers assigned to score exams at Stuyvesant High School. The point of the appearance, a press advisory said, is to “protest the fact that the Department of Education let the testing company ship the filled-in tests out of state, then failed to ensure that the company scanned the tests properly and on time.”

Teachers who have participated in the electronic scoring this year say the slow scanning speed, which has caused them to be sent back to their schools early most days, is only one of several major snafus. At some schools, exams were not picked up until days after they were taken, teachers said, and some exams have apparently been lost.

And even when there are answers to score, bandwidth issues have prevented teachers from grading them quickly in some schools, and in others, McGraw-Hill’s efforts to redact identifying information about students left answers partially obscured. The only alternative to sending the papers back for rescanning, teachers say, is to use a keyboard shortcut that reveals students’ identifying information.

Some teachers said scoring had improved slightly today, but others said they sat idly at their grading centers after problems resurfaced midday. Whether enough teachers will choose to spend even more time scoring tests is an open, and important, question. High school students are supposed to report back to their schools on Monday, meaning that teachers who were free to score tests during Regents week will have responsibilities at their schools.

When the department put out a call for teachers to grade the global history exam in January, the first time that all schools’ tests were subject to distributed scoring, only about 1,000 signed up. That meant the department was short at least 700 teachers to ensure that all global history exams could be graded on time — and it was forced to abandon distributed scoring in that subject.

The number of exams taken in January is only a fraction of the number taken in June.