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Chapter 8. A REAL JOB

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CHAPTER

8

A Real Job

A

FTER GETTING rejected by the Writer’s Workshop, I had no better plan than to slog away in testing. I may not have wanted to, but I faced a number of obstacles in advancing into any other line of work. First, I was living in a place where the percentages were against me, because Iowa

City was a burg full of well-educated townies and very few jobs.

Second, my grandiose sense of self continued to flourish unabated, and because I still imagined myself a writer and possible genius, I wasn’t ecstatic about the idea of some career in

Iowa City at a shipping company, meat-packing plant, or the university’s administrative offices.

Instead, I went on the dole. After completing a four-month project for Maria in January 1999, I stopped working. There were no scoring projects happening and hence nothing for me to do. Per Greg’s suggestion, I dropped in to the state unemployment office, where I happily discovered I could get checks every week for not doing anything. While I’d always been fundamentally opposed to receiving such government largesse, I was even more opposed to demeaning myself by actually, you

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Chapter 11. WARM BODIES

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CHAPTER

11

Warm Bodies

T

HE ONLY REASON I accepted another job scoring tests in the spring of 2007 is because I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. At the time, I was happily ensconced in the East Village of New York City, trying to make it as a writer:

I’d already gotten a couple of magazine stories published, and

I never would have returned to testing except an ex-colleague of mine wanted to ship me to Iowa City for three weeks to train the scoring of the NAEP reading test. As that sounded like nothing to me but a paid vacation to my beloved former

Shangri-La, I stopped writing long enough to undertake the task.

The fun began for me for NAEP reading 2007 even before

I left my apartment, when I sat through yet another ridiculous conference call, this one barely audible due to a bad phone connection. On the line were more than 30 people, including me in New York and representatives of ETS, Pearson Education, various federal government agencies, and the NAEP

Reading Committee spread all over the United States. We

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Chapter 2. NUMBERS

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CHAPTER

2

Numbers

H

AVING DISCOVERED my 1994 price—ethics included!— was just $7.75 an hour, I reported back for my second day at NCS and began to see what the gig was really all about. After listening to a cursory, 10-minute review of the bicycle safety item and scoring rules, we began to read and score student responses again. I never again saw or heard of that problematic poster with the busted-up bike “stopped” at the stop sign that had so annoyed me the day before. It had been directed to one of my fellow scorers, and one of them— apparently without much thought, because no one ever mentioned it—scored it, either giving it full credit for so obviously understanding the value of stop signs, or maybe giving it no credit because he or she believed (as I did) the poster provided absolutely no clear understanding of anything. While I was curious what score my unknown coworker might have given the response, I was even more intrigued to think what some test developer/education expert imagined that score meant. To me the poster was absolutely unfathomable, but someone out there believed it was an indicator of student learning.

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Chapter 6. THE ORACLE OF PRINCETON

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98

MAKING THE GRADES

“They’re too kind,” I said, “too kind.” I pretended I couldn’t imagine getting such high praise, but in my head I was beaming, those fawning reviews of my managerial style—nay, of my very essence—confirming my long-held belief that I was extraordinary.

Maria continued reading to herself, shaking her head with disbelief. “I’ve never seen such evaluations,” she said, and before she walked away, she patted my arm. “Great job, Todd.”

I was proud I’d had such an effect on my scorers and happy to have made such a favorable impression on Maria.

Those flattering reviews occurred at just the right time, because by the spring of ’98, the testing business was booming, and NCS was beginning to open scoring centers all across

America. They would need experienced supervisors to travel to other states to oversee projects, and when Maria thought about whom to send, my name was near the top of her list.

Finally I was getting somewhere, because even if my efforts to get into the Writers’ Workshop hadn’t exactly panned out (a tactful rejection letter having landed in my mailbox that very spring), traveling for NCS meant two things: four more dollars an hour, and living on an expense account. Ka-ching!

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Chapter 5. TABLE LEADER

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CHAPTER

5

Table Leader

M

Y PRINCIPLED “never again” stance to give up standardized test scoring was short-lived. Really, my antitesting position hadn’t resulted from any sense of moral outrage, just the fact I found the whole thing unseemly.

I’d always had a pretty healthy ego, and glancing at student responses and lumping them into piles of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 wasn’t exactly the way I’d planned to make a living. It was a job I felt I could have done starting about the eighth grade, and frankly I felt the whole thing was beneath me.

My parents convinced me otherwise. When I explained to them over the course of the summer how foolish I believed test scoring was, my folks didn’t seem particularly put off. Admittedly, my summary of the job didn’t include my own tendency toward daydreaming and/or cheating, so my attempt to explain the ambiguity and inconsistency of the work fell on deaf ears.

My mother and father heard only that I had a “professional” job at a big corporation, so they were pleased.

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