Thursday, July 15, 2004

Some did pass teaching test

Essays were graded too harshly

By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer

Thousands of teacher candidates nationwide - including more than 1,200 in Ohio - were denied instructional licenses, and perhaps jobs, because of grading errors that had them failing certification tests they actually passed.

More than 4,000 teachers in 19 states who took the teaching license exam necessary for being employed as an instructor for grades 7 through 12 were incorrectly graded as failing their tests. The teacher exams were taken between January 2003 and April of this year, according to officials at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in New Jersey.

Ohio had more false failures than any other state. About 150 Kentucky teaching candidates were incorrectly graded, said Tom Ewing, spokesman for the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS, said Wednesday.

The private, nonprofit testing organization, which also produces and grades the widely used Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for college admissions, discovered the grading error last week and has been calling the 4,100 teacher candidates nationwide affected by what Ewing described as "human error" in grading of the exam's essay portion.

"We noticed lower scores than in the past and when we reviewed the test grading found more stringent scoring than required," said Ewing. "The people who monitor that program have been taken off the program."

Cincinnatian Paul Perrea, a former electrical engineer turned long-term substitute teacher, wanted to teach mathematics in Cincinnati Public Schools full-time. He remembers feeling confident after taking the Praxis II Test last year.

But he was surprised to learn that he had scored a 156 on the essay portion of the test, falling short of the 165 required for Ohio educational licensing.

Perrea said that, over the weekend, an ETS representative left a "mealy-mouthed" and vague apology in a phone message at his home. But Perrea said he has yet to receive any written notification admitting to the error. Moreover, it pains him to think that his efforts to gain full-time teaching employment might have been unfairly tainted by the ETS grading error.

"I had this beautiful array of high test scores on other tests with this one ugly score.

" . . . If you don't pass the test you can't teach," he said, adding that he has experienced "economic loss and a rather unpleasant feeling" since being misinformed of his testing status eight months ago.

"You are definitely made to look like you have been branded a failure," he said.

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, which is working with ETS to contact Ohio teaching candidates who might be affected, said "it's very unfortunate, but the positive is ETS has taken the lead on rectifying the problem."

Besides working with state departments of education to contact all test takers affected, ETS has set up a toll-free hot line (800-205-2626) to assist any teacher candidates seeking to learn whether their exams were incorrectly graded.

But Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, blasted ETS as holding too much power over the careers of prospective teachers without any public oversight of its methods.

"There needs to be a public investigation of the ETS, and not just have it left to private corporation public relations to clean this up," said Schaeffer.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, based in Cambridge, Mass., is a political lobbying group working to end the use of standardized testing, especially as it may lead to racial, class, gender or cultural barriers. It is funded by various foundations and trusts.


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