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After two companies botch test scoring, city to recoup money

The city canceled a contract with one testing vendor and won’t get charged by another after the companies bungled exam scoring in separate incidents earlier this year, the education department announced today.

Officials announced this afternoon that they are canceling a $9.7 million contract after the vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, botched a new electronic grading process for the city’s Regents exams, causing confusion for tens of thousands of students who needed scores to graduate or move onto the next grade. The city will also recoup $2.1 million from Pearson for major errors during its administration of a gifted exam.

The news comes less than three months after officials sought to downplay the issues, which included a series of technical glitches that resulted from logistical problems, faulty software and low school bandwidth. Spokeswoman Erin Hughes said the department was still negotiating how much money it would recoup from the contract, which was in its second year of a three-year deal.

As a result of the cancellation, she said, the city planned to move back to paper-and-pencil scoring in 2014.

This school year was the first in which all Regents exams were graded through “distributed scoring,” an arrangement devised to prevent teachers from scoring tests taken by students at their schools. The process involved McGraw-Hill collecting exam sheets, transporting them to a scanning site in Connecticut and then distributing them back to computers in schools where teachers waited to grade them.

But problems appeared almost immediately. Some exams weren’t picked up and others were lost for weeks at a time. Teachers assigned to grading sites sat in front of computers for hours, getting paid overtime to grade just a handful of answer sheets per day. The delays stretched into graduation week, when thousands of students walked in ceremonies without knowing if they had earned a diploma.

“I’ve been doing grading for 18 years and this is the absolute worst,” Dino Sferrazza, a social studies teacher, told GothamSchools back in June.

Once the grading was finished, teachers, students and teachers said some of scores didn’t seem right. Top students in the classroom during the school year were failing at a high rate, and principals began making plans to file grading appeals. Hughes did not respond to questions about the appeals.

McGraw-Hill won the contract in 2012, but only after officials expressed reservations about the company’s ability to follow through on what it was promising in its proposal. A proposal by Pearson, McGraw-Hill’s rival in the testing industry, was better but cost significantly more.

It was the second test contract that caused problems with the city schools this year. Hughes said that the city was also recouping $2.1 million from Pearson this year for a different testing contract. Earlier this year, GothamSchools reported that Pearson gave out out the wrong scores to thousands of families whose children took a gifted school placement exam.

Hughes said it was too far into the school year to find a new vendor to takeover the work in Pearson’s contract, which includes creating and administering the gifted exams. But she said that the city planned to look for a new vendor in 2014.