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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 10. WORKING IN THEORY

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186

MAKING THE GRADES

write questions only a certain population can answer. They don’t write questions in German, because then only speakers of that

Teutonic language could answer; they don’t write questions anymore about “regattas,” because there are only so many scions of aristocratic, sailing families in the test-taking population these days; and they don’t write questions that are racist or sexist, or are disparaging to any particular religion/nation/culture/ subculture/sub-subculture (we can’t be hurting anyone’s feelings now), or are focused on any topic that might be disturbing or upsetting or even the slightest bit unsettling to the delicate student population (because having to face up to the realities of the world might be so discombobulating, little Billy or Mary— or Jose or Paulita, DeShawn or LaKeesha, Hideki or Chidori,

Jagdeep or Amita—might not be able to concentrate enough on the vitally important test in front of them).

But it seemed to me obsessing over those guidelines could be something of a slippery slope, and it was a slope that I thought we slid down too often. While conceding some topics definitely needed to be avoided on tests (mature topics like sex and drugs, controversial topics like abortion or the war in Iraq),

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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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Chapter 3. THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF

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CHAPTER

3

The Wheat from the Chaff

M

Y INTENTION in moving to Iowa City had been to establish residency so if I were eventually granted admission into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I’d only have to pay in-state tuition. Additionally, given my spotty academic record as an undergraduate (2.8 GPA—I cared a lot about soccer during my first collegiate go round), I figured I would take classes at the university to get good grades, do some writing, and convince a professor or two to write me a recommendation for the Workshop.

It was an excellent plan, and it actually bore fruit. I earned

A’s in undergrad courses in nonfiction writing, and a couple of my submissions were extremely well received. I wrote a story about returning to small-town Maine, after college in big-time

Montreal, to help my parents run their podunk general store, and it led the instructor to comment during a classroom discussion that the tale had “deeply moved” him. Another story about my last college soccer game—an account that implied

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Chapter 9. MY OWN PRIVATE HALLIBURTON

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CHAPTER

9

My Own Private

Halliburton

B

Y MARCH 2005, I’d been “retired” from ETS for a year and a half, but it had been a lucrative year and a half indeed. As soon as I’d hung up my ETS pencil, the offers for consulting work started flooding in, and those offers were not small. I accepted because I had to pay the bills (damn, that was some Cobra health payment!) and because I was unqualified to do anything else. I took gigs with former colleagues at ETS to develop training materials, with Maria (who was in business for herself in Iowa City) to write test items, and with Riverside

Publishing in Chicago, which had mysteriously gotten my name and quickly signed me to a contract as a “test-scoring expert.” A friend from NCS had also called to ask if I could lend a hand on a scoring project, but the pay was so small (17 bucks an hour) I had to make a serious effort not to laugh in my old pal’s face.

Being a consultant was like running my own private Halliburton: I did what I felt like and charged what I wanted, the

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