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Regents endorse first steps in state's test security overhaul

ALBANY — Members of the Board of Regents today endorsed an independent review of the state’s procedures for investigating cheating.

The independent review is a first step in a complete overhaul of the state’s test security procedures that a State Education Department task force recommended last week. The Regents are reviewing the recommendations at their monthly meeting today and tomorrow.

Today’s vote to pursue the independent review came from the P-12 Committee, which supervises education from preschool through high school. With the committee’s endorsement, the measure is expected to pass easily when the entire board votes on it tomorrow.

Approval will trigger an “immediate” review, just as soon as the state finds an entity to conduct it. Education Commissioner John King said the state would look for entities to participate in the review at low or no cost to the state.

That review is likely to generate ideas for how SED can expand its investigative arm, which officials characterized as muddled.

Currently, cheating allegations are generally logged at the local district level. SED Deputy Commissioner Valerie Grey said today that complaints at the state level are logged through an anonymous hotline or directly to the Office of Assessment, but beyond that there is no clear chain of responsibility.

Grey said that she would look to hire investigative experts who could advise the state on how to form its own investigations unit.

“We’re looking for someone with extensive experience in investigations to take a look at what we do, in order to make sure we’re taking any sort of allegation as seriously as possible,” said Grey, posing hypothetical questions she hoped the review would answer. “What’s the intake process? Who’s responsible for looking into it and figuring out what is the proper follow-up?”

The committee also agreed to allow Grey to “further develop” a number of more specific measures that, if eventually approved and implemented, could overhaul test security as school districts know it. The proposals would centralize scoring at the state level, ban teachers from both proctoring and scoring their students’ tests, and instate erasure analysis and other tools to identify suspicious patterns of answers. Another proposal would develop a system where the open-answer section of tests would be scanned anonymously, then assigned out randomly for certified teachers to grade.

These items elicited the most discussion among the Regents, some of whom raised questions — as yet answered — about how much the proposals would cost.

The Regents emphasized that the move to tighten test security did not represent an attack on teachers’ integrity, but rather a necessary measure in a high-stakes testing environment. In her opening remarks, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that New York State has the best teachers of any other state.

Kathleen Cashin, a former superintendent in New York City, said she partially disagreed with a proposal that would ban teachers from proctoring. In the elementary grades, she said, teachers should administer tests to their own students.

Cashin also recommended that every school be visited by testing monitors, a measure that she said proved to be effective when she was a superintendent in New York City.

“That is a preventive way, if someone is thinking of cheating, they might think twice if they knew someone was in the building touring,” Cashin said. “It’s just like athletes with drug tests. If they know they’re going to be drug tested, it will be preventive for some.”

New charter schools approved: The committee also voted to approve the charter applications for 18 new schools that would open in New York City in 2012. Two Regents from the city — Betty Rosa and Lester Young — abstained from votes, saying they had had more questions about the applications from KIPP and Success Charter School Network.

January Regents exams restored: The Regents also officially accepted the $1.5 million in donations solicited by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to restore January Regents exams, which the state eliminated to save money. But not every member was happy about it, with some complaining that the state had not restored funding on its own.

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