Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring busines

From the city pages in Minneapolis

Behind the scenes of standardized testing
By Jessica Lussenhop- Wednesday, Feb 23 2011
Dan DiMaggio was blown away the first time he heard his boss say it.

After three years working as a scorer, Dan DiMaggio says he’s a skimming machine. “It’s ugly,” he says. “You just go as fast as possible.”

The pensive, bespectacled 25-year-old had been coming to his new job in the Comcast building in downtown St. Paul for only about a week. Naturally, he had lots of questions.

After three years working as a scorer, Dan DiMaggio says he's a skimming machine. "It's ugly," he says. "You just go as fast as possible."

At one point, DiMaggio approached his increasingly red-faced supervisor at his desk with another question. Instead of answering, the man just hissed at him.

“You know this stuff better than I do!” he said. “Stop asking me questions!”

DiMaggio was struck dumb.

“I definitely didn’t feel like I knew what was going on at all,” he remembers. “Your supervisor has to at least pretend to know what’s going on or everything falls apart.”

DiMaggio’s question concerned an essay titled, “What’s your goal in life?” The answer for a surprising number of seventh-graders was to lift 200 pounds.

Although DiMaggio had been through a training process, he found himself tripped up as he began scoring the essays. What made the organization “good” as opposed to “excellent”? What happens when the kid doesn’t answer the question at all, but writes with excellent organization about whatever the hell he wants? Did it matter that it was insane for seventh-graders to think they’d be benching 200 pounds?

Read the full article.

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