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Test security measures nixed from 2012-2013 state budget

Funding for statewide erasure analysis and other test security measures was omitted from early drafts of the 2012-2013 budget, meaning a major initiative by the state education department could be shelved indefinitely.

Back in October, the Board of Regents signed off on a plan to request $2.1 million in the 2012-2013 budget for erasure analysis as part of changes to address concerns that state tests were not secure. State education officials lobbied the Governor’s office for the funding, but when Cuomo released his $132.5 billion preliminary budget in January, the line item was not included.

Funding for the initiatives was also left out of budget proposals submitted this week by the Assembly and Senate.

“The legislature said it’s obviously not a priority for them,” SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said of the test security proposals.

Every spring, state agencies lobby Cuomo’s budget office for their legislative priorities. In addition to funding for test security, SED officials also wanted a budget amendment to reduce costs and shorten the length of time it takes to complete disciplinary hearings for tenured teachers, a wish that Cuomo granted.

The omission of test security proposals came at the same time as Cuomo used the budget process to push districts and teachers unions to accept an evaluation system that makes test scores a part of teacher ratings.

Some legislators said test security got short shrift during the budgetary process.
“As more and more importance is placed on state tests, there needs to be real reform: higher quality tests, better formats, and improved test integrity,” said Senator Daniel Squadron. “The only way to improve the quality of the tests and the integrity of the scoring is to invest more dollars to move beyond oversimplified multiple choice, and to professionalize assessment.”

Erasure analysis was a central piece to a test integrity initiative meant to strengthen state testing policies. The proposal came in response to a series of cheating scandals that popped up around the country last summer, where erasure analysis was used to confirm instances of widespread abuse.

Previously, the state piloted erasure analysis for a sample of state tests and found that it identified several instances where cheating might have occurred. Although the analysis raised suspicions in only a small fraction of the exams, Commissioner John King said at the time that it affirmed the need to boost state test security.

“Even this small body of evidence reinforces the larger message of the Department’s comprehensive test integrity review launched in August 2011 shortly after I became Commissioner: we need to take strong steps to ensure the integrity of New York State tests,” King wrote in a letter to district superintendents.

The line item would have also funded other measures to discourage cheating, including a program that measures the consistency and accuracy of grading on open response test questions.

“Absent the funding, it will be very difficult to move forward with most of these proposals,” Tompkins said. “But the Regents and SED will continue to work to protect the integrity of the state assessments.”

The funding would have also helped SED launch a computer-based testing pilot to help them prepare its move toward online-only tests by 2015, a requirement for states participating in a program that’s building assessments based on the Common Core.

Some elements of the proposal can go forward without new funds from the state. Teachers will still be prohibited from grading their own students’ exams and districts will still be required to enforce test-day guidelines more aggressively with test monitors, but costs for those initiatives will likely paid for by local districts.

Cuomo and legislators say they expect a final budget to be submitted before the April 1 deadline and they continue to negotiate behind closed doors, but it’s unlikely that funding for erasure analysis will be restored, budget experts said. Both the State and the Assembly want to push back against Cuomo’s performance-based grants and that issue is dominating these discussions, officials said.