internal review

New test security office formed after state audit details faults

The state’s system for pursuing allegations of test fraud is disorganized, outdated and ill-equipped to root out cheating, according to a independent auditor’s findings released today.

wA four-month, self-imposed audit into the State Education Department’s current test integrity policies found nearly two dozen areas where the department was deficient in dealing with claims where cheating could have occurred on state tests. The audit came months after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged state commissioners across the country to scrutinize their test integrity practices following a spate of cheating scandals.

Among the recommendations made by the auditor, Hank Greenberg, was the creation of a new top-level office called the “Test Security Unit.” Officials said the office will be budgeted with $1 million annually to staff a team of seven investigators with backgrounds in law enforcement and law to deal with cheating allegations on a daily basis.

For the first time, state investigators will proactively seek out suspicious testing trends through data forensics and conduct their own probes, a change that Greenberg called a “paradigm shift.”

No office previously existed solely to investigate allegations and the audit’s findings suggest that SED does not have a realistic grasp for how widespread the cheating problem is. Until now, charges were logged and tracked through an antiquated paper-based system in an office that was ill-equipped to handle test integrity issues. Investigations were left up to local school districts, which had little incentive to comprehensively conduct such probes.

SED received fewer than 100 allegations per year from 2006-2011 and verified half of them, Greenberg said.

Commissioner John King said that the administrative overhaul was a sign of the state’s increasing role in education policy at a time when test results play a significant role in measuring student growth and evaluating teacher effectiveness.

“Historically, these sorts of test integrity issues were viewed as local issues, and that began to change somewhat with No Child Left Behind, where the state began to take larger control,” King said in a conference call with reporters.

King acknowledged that even while the state was pouring resources into test development and administration in recent years, it was not as concerned about the credibility of those tests.

“At the time test integrity was not the focus of what it needed to be,” King said.

Assistant Commissioner Valerie Grey said the unit would cost about $1 million to pay for the salaries and fringe benefits of the seven new staff members. She said it wouldn’t require additional funding because SED planned to reallocate money from budget line items that are currently unfilled. She did not specify where the money would come from.

One tool that might not be at the new unit’s disposal is the ability to detect test sheets for suspiciously high rates of erasure. Erasure analysis was one of several programs that SED sought funding for as a line item in the 2012-2013 budget, a request that was denied in preliminary drafts. Officials said today that it was a crucial piece to their test integrity efforts and remained optimistic that funding would be added back in before the April 1 deadline. “It’s not over yet,” King said of the budgetary process.

The new test integrity announcements were met with skepticism from teacher union president Michael Mulgrew, a frequent critic of standardized testing.

“If SED spent even half as much time trying to improve curriculum and teacher retention as it does on test and test security, New York State would have better schools,” Mulgrew said.

The state only released and outline of Greenberg’s findings, but declined to share the more comprehensive version with reporters. The full report will be released on Monday for the state’s monthly Board of Regents meeting.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.