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Problem With Pencils Fouls Test Scoring

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Hillsborough County, Fla., public-school officials have pinpointed faulty pencils as the reason a computer misread 10,500 answer sheets for a basic-skills test taken by 85,000 students earlier this year.

Administrators estimate it will cost $40,000 and take 26 days to rescore all 85,000 tests. That will delay some decisions on student placement for the coming semester, they say.

The computer misread answer sheets because the pencils, manufactured by a firm named Fabercastel and purchased in bulk by the school system, had too little carbon in their graphite core, according to John Hildebrand, the schools' testing director.

Failed Scanning Tests

The pencils also failed computer-scanning tests at the University of Florida in the spring and in several Florida school districts in the last year, but Mr. Hildebrand said that he was not aware that such tests had been conducted.

Officials who conducted the tests said that the Fabercastel pencil was not the only pencil that fared poorly, but they declined to identify the other low-carbon pencils.

In addition, because the computer scanner used to score the tests--which requires a certain amount of graphite to scan the testing sheets--is similar to scanners used by school systems and testing firms nationwide, the problem could be even more widespread, education officials noted.

"This is a new problem that's mushrooming," said Philip Grisy, a testing consultant for the Florida Department of Education.

--Patti Breckenridge

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