I-TEAM: Regents Exam Graders Recruited on Craigslist With ‘No Experience Necessary'

A private company that recruits test graders on Craigslist with “no experience necessary” is helping to score New York’s all-important Regents Exams, the I-Team has found.

Last year, the New York State Education Department inked a contract with Measurement Incorporated, a North Carolina company, to score Regents field and pilot tests.  That means the firm helps determine the grading scales – what amounts to top-level student responses and what amounts to sub-par student work.  The firm also helps determine which questions end up on next month’s exams.

Though parents and students may assume certified teachers are the ones scoring those field and pilot tests, it turns out Measurement Incorporated hires some essay readers and math graders without educational experience. 

In one Craigslist ad, the company offered $11.70 an hour for a “Reader/Evaluator” position.   According to the ad, the job required a Bachelor’s degree in “any field.”

Henry Scherich, the founder of Measurement Inc., said some of the graders working on the New York Regents Exam were recruited using Craigslist ads. 

“Yes, we have advertised on Craigslist for people. Just like we put ads in the newspaper and with employment agencies,” Scherich said.

He said it is not practical to exclusively hire teachers to grade standardized tests. But Scherich stressed all scoring staff must pass a placement assessment to demonstrate their competence. They must also have college degrees.

“Teachers are in the classroom when we need them, so we ensure that we have college degree people,” he said.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General found Measurement Inc. had difficulty verifying some of its scoring staff had bachelor’s degrees.

According the audit, the company was “unable to provide adequate documentation that its readers obtained bachelor’s degrees” for 29 of 249 essay readers working on a Tennessee state exam.  That equates to about one in 11 essay readers without proper proof of their educational credentials.

Scherich stressed the federal audit of his company was 8 years old and he said 13 of the unsupported readers did have teaching certificates but those certificates were expired.

“Does that make the certificate or the degree any less valid if it was expired?” he wrote in an email to the I-Team.

On top of concerns about the qualifications of exam graders, Measurement Inc. is also facing trouble in another part of its business – the design and administration of online tests.  Last month, education officials in Tennessee canceled a $108 million contract with Measurement Inc.  after students were unable to complete an online test the company developed.  Scherich said it is not clear his company was to blame for the glitch. 

Jeanne Beattie, a spokeswoman for the New York State Education Department, characterized Measurement Inc. as playing “a relatively small role” in the administering and grading of Regents Exams.  She said the company typically scores at least 400,000 essays and math responses.  Those graded responses serve as models for local schools.

“The chosen models are provided to educators across the state to help train them to understand, for example, what a score of 1 out of 5 looks like compared to a score of 3 out of 5 on the rubric,” Beattie said.

New York’s contract with Measurement Inc. is worth as much as $20 million and it expires in 2019.  So far the state has spent more than $1.5 million.

Elliott Leinweber, an incoming New York City high school freshman, said he thinks anyone who grades Regents Exam responses should be a professional educator – especially because passing the Regents is a prerequisite for graduation.

“I don’t think we should have some random person that we found on Craigslist just going in, grading our test, who doesn’t really understand children or understand learners in general,” Leinweber said.

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