Battle Standardized Tests to the Bitter End

"If I had to take any standardized test today that was important to my future and would be assessed by the scoring processes I have long been a part of, I promise you I would protest; I would fight, I would sue, I would go on a hunger strike or March in Washington. I might even punch someone in the nose, but I would never allow that massive and ridiculous business to have any say in my future without battling it to the bitter, bitter end."
  -Todd Farley,
Author of Making the Grades; My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry

I just finished reading this entertaining, provocative, and deeply disturbing memoir written by Todd Farley, who rose in the standardized testing industry ranks from professional test scorer, to management, and then to consultant. He started in the biz for the higher-than-minimum wage hourly rate, and quit fifteen years later out of boredom and guilt. Farley tells first hand accounts of the scoring and scorers who are holding our children's futures in their hands...and it isn't pretty.

Both Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalites: Children in America's Schools, and Alfie Kohn, (one of my educational rockstars), author of The Case Against Standardized Testing, wrote blurbs on the book and call it a "...searing challenging to the powers that be," and "the kind of book you will be telling your friends they've simply got to read." That is why I am telling you, readers.

Top Ten Reasons to Read, Making the Grades:

10. The first chapter is titled: Scoring Monkey
During his training, Farley questions the process. His co-workers tell him that, "Basically, we are just a bunch of scoring monkeys. No thought required. Just click. "And he did. "I had just become a professional scorer," he reports.

9. They only look at our kid's work for mere seconds
"Most of the (4th grade safety posters) were on our screens for no more than seconds. The ones that were confusing we may have looked at longer, but eventually we just clicked a score button, any score button, to make them go away."

8. Scorers are temporary employees, who are not as invested in scoring as the public may think.
"Vincent was studying to take the bar exam...during our work day: he kept a law text open on his lap all day, every day, and as many times as (our boss) asked him to shut it to concentrate on his scoring work, Vincent said, "I'm scoring, I'm scoring."

7. Professional scorers read about 30 essays an hour: a two or three page essay every two minutes. Farley reports that now automated scoring systems are here and they assess our children's hard work in seven seconds! "Even if those programs don't know what an essay says, that's still a helluva time."

6. Sometimes professional scorers have a good sense of humor.  
"We watched (a manager) respond to a question from one of his people about an essay's score, by taking the essay, holding it up to his head without even glancing at it (a la the Johnny Carson 'mind-reading' bit from the Tonight Show), and announcing, "Carnac says this essay earns a 2."

5. You can make big bucks writing questions to torture children. 
"Lazing about my apartment, scratching the ears of my cats and joining them for frequent naps, I wrote numerous multiple-choice questions and short stories...(In the year 2000) the questions paid $25 a pop, and the stories paid $500...I (was) convinced I'd found my destiny..."

4. Pearson has Pentagon-type security. 
"...even more important than keeping people out was Pearson's intention to keep secret everything going on inside those doors. On the building's main entrance was a sign prohibiting all cameras and recording equipment from the site, and the first thing one saw when passing through the door was a bold pronouncement proclaiming, 'Camera Phones Will Be Confiscated.'"
Pearson scorers even had to sign confidentiality agreements.

3. See no evil....hear no evil....
"Pearson management knew they had employees on site who were incorrectly scoring student responses that would ultimately make up the 'Nation's Report Card'."

2. Psychometricians advised managers not to do too good a job scoring. 
"...the ETS psychometrician in Princeton (said), don't do too good a job scoring..that's not our official stance of course...I'm just saying don't go overboard. Maybe use some of the less good scorers..." Farley thought, "Her request had been...shocking...she cared more about getting a reliability number than she did about the correct scores getting put on the papers."

1. "I don't believe the results of standardized testing because it is the most inexact of sciences."
Farley says, "It seems to me entrusting the education of this country's children to 'professional scorers' in far distant states instead of the men and women who stand in front of their classrooms each day is about as smart an idea as entrusting your health not to the doctor holding the stethoscope to your heart but to some accountant crunching numbers in Omaha. Personally, I'd trust the guy who's looking me in the eye."

When I was growing up the SAT, ACT, MAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, NTE, Praxis, etc. were our concerns. We had dreams. We knew we had to face our fears and take these tests if our goals included certain types of higher education. That was stressful enough.

Today politicians are using standardized test scores to threaten our children with having their high school graduation denied, their schools unfunded and closed, their principals and teachers fired, and Farley says he'd battle it to the bitter end...

Perhaps our politicians don't know or don't care, but we sure do. It's time to act. 


  1. I'm curious to know what backlash, if any, Farley faced after publishing this book!


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