Rules Are Rules, Even for Test Graders

"What does homeland security have to do with grading history tests?" Elly Kluge asks.
"What does homeland security have to do with grading history tests?" Elly Kluge asks. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008

Every time Elly Kluge's friends and colleagues ask what happened last week at the Advanced Placement European history test grading session in Colorado, the 67-year-old Arlington County history teacher says: "I was sent home early because I am a terrorist."

That is not quite accurate, Kluge acknowledges, but she loves saying it because she wants to make a point.

Kluge is one of the most experienced AP history teachers and graders in the Washington area, but Educational Testing Service officials told her she had to stop reading exams, and pay her own way back to the airport, because she had only a Virginia driver's license to prove her identity. They insisted she show a second form of identification under a federal law meant to control immigration and protect homeland security.

"What does homeland security have to do with grading history tests?" asked Kluge, who flew back to the Washington area Friday after being turned away from the seven-day grading session in Fort Collins.

Blame for the incident is disputed by Kluge and ETS officials. But there is little doubt the events stemmed at least in part from a culture clash: federal security rules vs. a teacher who has spent the past 29 years at the most rule-averse public school in the region.

The H.B. Woodlawn Program, where Kluge teaches, began in 1971 as part of a movement of alternative public schools that adopted a free-wheeling, power-to-the-students-and-teachers philosophy. In the years since, Woodlawn has stuck to that course. Procedures are decided by vote, and students regularly call teachers by their first names.

This year, Kluge switched from grading U.S. history exams to European history exams because "reading the U.S. history was becoming more and more depressing," she said. "AP U.S. history nationwide has become much more of a push-them-into-it program." She said she hoped the European exams, which like all AP exams have free-response sections graded by expert instructors, might reveal "students who are a little more committed."

She graded exams for about an hour Thursday, discovering fine answers, to her delight. But the day took a turn when she sought to complete her paperwork at a check-in desk. Her driver's license, she was told, was not sufficient. She had to get her Social Security card, which she lost track of years ago, or have someone overnight her passport to the Colorado State University dorm where she was staying.

"First of all, I live alone," she told Ron Baker, the ETS operations officer. "Second of all, nobody back home has a key to my apartment. Third of all, I don't want my passport in the mail. Isn't that a security risk?"

In a telephone interview, Baker said he never raised his voice and heard praise from other AP graders for keeping his cool. He said his records listed Kluge as a first-time reader, subject to the identification law. It turned out she was listed at previous grading sessions under her maiden name.

Kluge said she never used that name and didn't know how it could have gotten mixed up in her record. "Maybe he's determined to find me under some other last name, like bin Laden?" she said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company