05/09/2013 04:01 pm ET Updated May 13, 2013

Florida Unemployment System's 'Initial Skills Review' Laid Bare (SLIDESHOW)

The Florida government insists that the controversial state Initial Skills Review required when applying for unemployment insurance is not a test.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a law slashing the duration of jobless aid and making Florida the first state to require unemployment claimants to answer a series of basic math and reading questions. Answering a certain number of questions correctly isn't necessary to be eligible for benefits, but claimants have to get through it.

Florida has declined to make the review public, but on Wednesday the Office of Economic Development let The Huffington Post try out a demonstration version of the assessment that included questions claimants have answered on the review in the past. (HuffPost reporter Arthur Delaney took the ISR demo. See how he did in the slideshow below!)

"The Initial Skills Review is not a 'test,' or intended to create a barrier for those seeking reemployment assistance," Florida Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Jessica Sims said in an email. "The job seeker cannot pass or fail the assessment, and only has to attempt the ISR in order to be eligible for reemployment assistance."

Even though jobseekers can't fail the review, labor advocates said having to deal with it at all is a problem for some.

"The time it takes to complete the 45-question examination necessarily lengthens the initial claim process for the average unemployed worker to one hour and 15 minutes," worker advocacy groups said in a formal complaint last year. "For workers who are not literate or computer-literate, navigating this process in which there is effectively no available personal assistance will take much longer."

In the first months after its implementation the state denied benefits to tens of thousands of workers because they didn't finish the assessment, according to the complaint filed by the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services. In response, a Scott spokeswoman said, "we owe it to those looking for work to make sure they have the skills employers are looking for, and to provide skills training where it is lacking." The complaint is still pending.

(A separate complaint from a different group of worker advocates alleged Florida's unemployment reforms violated civil rights laws by making the claims process overly onerous for non-English speakers and people with disabilities. Last month, the United States Department of Labor agreed and now the state is working with the Labor Department to modify the system.)

As for the demo review itself, the math questions were straightforward arithmetic, while a few of the reading questions were more abstract: "What relationships can be shown when using multiple graphics with either positive or negative numbers?" Claimants could choose from four answers, including, "They can compare aspects of similar components" or "One graphic can amplify an aspect of another" or "All of the above."

The program doesn't tell workers which questions they get wrong. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said the results are used either to encourage workers to burnish their skills or to attract employers. Roughly 30 percent of workers who complete the review then take advantage of a free online "skills training" program, according to the agency.

HuffPost readers: Taken the Initial Skills Review? Tell us all about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com. Please include your phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.



Demo of Florida's "Initial Skills Review" for unemployment claimants