The Atlanta cheating scandal has put a spotlight on how schools could fudge standardized tests.
In California, schools are supposed to report any irregularities in testing and investigate them themselves. The state no longer collects data on erasures, one of the ways that investigators detected cheating in Atlanta. Nor does it do random audits during testing, according to USA Today.
Irregularities can range from teachers accidentally not following exact instructions on how to administer state tests to outright cheating. The state then decides if it needs to adjust school scores to discount some of the test results. California keeps the records of testing irregularities for just one year.
I last requested those records for all schools in San Diego County in April. Keep in mind, these are the school districts that followed the rules and reported irregularities, just like they are supposed to.
The bigger problem is if cheating is going unreported and uncorrected, which is what happened in Atlanta. But these records give a sense of what kinds of problems can crop up during testing.
Here is what the documents turned up:
• Chula Vista Elementary School District found that at Veterans Elementary in spring 2010, four students said their teacher had pointed to specific questions they had answered on a state English test and told them to check their answers.
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Afterwards, “she came back around and either said, check it one more time or just reviewed the next answers and didn’t say anything,” the report says.
District spokesman Anthony Millican said the scores were excluded for school accountability, though so few scores were unlikely to impact it. Millican said he couldn’t say much more without violating personnel laws, writing in an email, “We take any report of an irregularity seriously, and investigate thoroughly.”
• National School District reported that a school employee alleged that the principal of Rancho de La Nacion School had been erasing and making marks in test booklets for students with disabilities. The principal said she was just erasing stray marks and darkening answers. Four students were involved.
The school district investigated the allegation in spring 2010 and enlisted the San Diego County Office of Education to investigate as well. It concluded that no adults had changed any student responses. The County Office applauded National for “the rigorous review of the incident.”
However, National Superintendent Chris Oram says the school district recommended to all principals and test coordinators that they avoid darkening circles in the test booklets. Oram said he believed that the scores were still counted by the state, since the state had not told them otherwise.
• Poway Unified reported that a student used a calculator during a math test in spring 2010 at Monterey Ridge Elementary. The student had a disability that allowed him to use a calculator during other math tests, but that still isn’t allowed on the state test, the school district and the state concluded.
Poway spokeswoman Sharon Raffer said the proctor was confused because calculators can be used in some grades but not others. She was unsure if the score had been discounted or not.
• Poway Unified also found that a testing proctor was prompting another student with disabilities to read passages in the test aloud at Turtleback Elementary the same spring. The proctor would then read the answers. If the student answered incorrectly, the proctor asked her to read the passage out loud again. After hearing about what happened, the principal told the proctor she couldn’t do that. Raffer was unsure if the score had been invalidated or not.
• San Diego Unified reported that posters with detailed information about multiplication, factoring, exponents and other subjects were up on the walls in a seventh grade classroom during math tests at Taft Middle School in spring 2010. Another teacher discovered the posters when she stepped in to supervise the class while their teacher left on a bathroom break. Twenty-six students were affected.
“We inform teachers that all visual aides that could assist students in doing better on (state tests) must be covered or removed from classroom walls,” Principal Mike George wrote in an email.
Ron Rode, who oversees accountability in San Diego Unified, said it was an inadvertent oversight, not intentional. Because the school reported the problem, the test scores for those students were not counted for the school, something that may have hurt them because it was an advanced class.
“We considered this a minor ding but felt that self reporting was the correct thing to do,” George wrote.
And that’s exactly what the state wants them to do. Now that California has stopped collecting data on erasures and dropped random test audits, it relies even more on school districts to report and investigate irregularities that could taint test results. In all five of these cases, the California Department of Education agreed that a violation of state law or testing regulations had occurred.
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