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Walcott: Budget cuts forced city to slash test security monitoring

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott blamed budget cuts on the reduction of monitoring visits that the education department made to schools on testing days earlier this year. He added that he hoped to restore the program to full capacity in time for next year’s standardized tests, but that he couldn’t promise it.

“I can’t give you a guarantee,” Walcott said this morning at a charity event in Brooklyn. “In a number of areas we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions around how the budget realities have an impact.”

Department officials weren’t immediately able to be more specific than the explanation Walcott offered. They did not know how much the monitoring program cost or how much was cut from it this year.

Update: A spokeswoman said that the cuts came from a $5 million reduction in the department’s testing budget, which was roughly $20 million last year. The cuts were made “in order to protect school programs from the citywide budget cuts.”

In April, monitors made 41 unannounced visits to 37 schools over a six-day testing period as part of a program that was devised to both deter schools from violating test security guidelines and check up on schools that were already suspected of misconduct and other improprieties. Many of the schools that received the surprise visits saw their test scores plummet this year.

But the total was down sharply from 2011, when the city paid 99 visits to 97 schools. The reduction comes at a time when federal and state officials are pushing districts to ramp up their test monitoring presence as part of a larger goal to ensure that the credibility of standardized tests are not compromised.“I mean, our goal is to do as much as we can within our budget limits to make sure we have monitors out there,” Walcott said.

“I’m very clear about the importance of high standards and making sure those standards are reached in a proper way, not in an improper way,” he added.

The Department of Education’s budget for the 2012-2013 year is $24.4 billion and it’s not clear how much the monitoring program would cut into that total. Monitors are fulltime and parttime department employees who visit schools over a six-day period each year, when students in grades 3-8 take the state tests. Monitors are required to check off ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on a bubble sheet that lists 20 test administration guidelines schools are required to follow.

Walcott said he would not rule out making changes to the city’s test security policies, but said that funding would remain a concern.

“I think the balancing act is taking a look at the cost factor involved in that as well, but we’re always looking to improve the system,” he said.