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This year’s state tests set to undergo erasure analysis after all

A renewed effort to boost test security means the math and reading exams that city schoolchildren took in April will undergo a process designed to catch cheating.

The process, known as erasure analysis, is considered a fundamental security measure for detecting evidence of cheating, but the state has never used it in significant volume. As cheating scandals erupted in other states last year, New York education officials penciled in $1 million for a pilot program that would subject 10 percent of this year’s tests to erasure analysis. But legislators scrubbed the funding, along with another $1.1 million meant for other test security measures, when they passed this year’s $132 billion budget.

State education officials have aggressively sought public and private alternatives to fund it ever since.

Now, the funding is getting restored, and erasure analysis will be conducted on some of this years’s elementary and middle school tests, city and state officials have confirmed.

Details about which districts would participate in the pilot, what proportion of tests would be screened, how much money would be spent, and where exactly the funding would come from are still up in the air, a state spokesman said.

“We’re still going through our process to determine how many and how much,” the spokesman said.

One of the districts that will be getting erasure analysis is New York City. The Department of Education’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said today that the city is working with the state to carry out the erasure analysis pilot.

He said he expected that the city would shoulder some of the funding because the budget environment for test security at the state level is bleak.

“The state has been trying to form these collaborations because they don’t have a lot of money to do it and they didn’t have that funded,” Polakow-Suransky said. “So they’re doing their best with what they’ve got and they’re trying to leverage the resources that districts have.”

Erasure analysis, which uses digital scanning to detect how often answers were changed on multiple-choice exam sheets, helped uncover widespread cheating in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Philadelphia schools last year.

Some states and districts have established erasure analysis programs. And New York has used the process before, too.

The state has quietly used the analysis on hundreds of thousands of Regents exams since 2008, finding problems with a tiny fraction of them. Of the 62 schools that the analysis red-flagged, 48 were in New York City. But only seven incidents rose to a level that triggered further investigation.

Critics of the state’s test security program say that tests won’t be credible until a more comprehensive and well-funded program is in place.

“It seems to me that a viable test security system is a baseline expense that needs to be included in the testing budget or else it’s simply not reliable,” said David Bloomfield, an education and law professor at the City University of New York.

Erasure analysis is also seen as crucial in a high-stakes environment where student test scores factor into a teacher’s annual evaluation. The state’s teacher evaluation law mandates that at least 20 percent of teachers’ ratings come from an analysis of their students’ performance on state exams, where available.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who has charged the state with giving too little attention to test security, raised the issue today on the Senate floor as lawmakers discussed the merits of a bill that would partially shield teacher ratings from public view.

“If teachers are evaluated on their students’ test scores, we better make sure that those tests actually reflect student achievement,” Squadron said after voting on the bill was complete.

The restored funding will cover just the one-year erasure analysis pilot that was slashed from the state’s budget proposal. If state education officials decide the results merit a continuation or expansion of erasure analysis, they will have to come up with more money next year. That could be tricky if the state does not substantially increase its allocation for SED’s testing division, because school districts have been resistant to underwriting security measures that some believe should not be their responsibility.

“I think that it is their exam, so it’s important for them to own this,” Polakow-Suransky said last year about the state. He said the city already spent more than $20 million a year on a variety of test security measures and said it wasn’t likely to be able to afford much more. “I’m hopeful that we’ll see as part of the state’s plan that they’re going to assume some responsibility too,” he said at the time.