Effort targets teachers’ cheating on state exams
CAPITAL REGION Educators who spot instances of cheating on state tests can now report them anonymously via a new website.
The New York State Department of Education launched the website last Friday to improve the security of state standardized tests.
Cheating has long been a concern of state educators and is perhaps even more of a concern now that state tests will be used to evaluate teachers. In 2011, eight Atlanta teachers and three school administrators had their teaching licenses revoked for their involvement in a scheme to supply correct answers to students on state tests. An analysis of the exams showed that incorrect answers were erased and correct answers substituted in their place.
The new website, which can be accessed at www.highered.nysed.gov/tsei/osadb.html, is just the latest in a series of steps that the state Education Department has taken on the issue.
In 2011, the state Board of Regents appropriated $2 million to reform state tests and analyze instances on tests where wrong answers have been erased and right answers substituted in their place on English and math standardized tests for grades three through eight, as well as on Regents exams.
Beginning in September 2011, all state standardized tests for grades three through eight were required to be given on the same day by school districts in the state.
Based on the recommendation of consultant Henry Greenberg, the department established a Test Security Unit and hired former Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Sciocchetti to lead it.
Starting in the 2012-13 year, teachers are prohibited from supervising their own students during test-taking and also from grading their own students’ exams.
State Education Commissioner John King Jr. said these measures are necessary to safeguard the more than 5 million student exams given every year.
“We’re working to make sure SED handles every allegation effectively and efficiently,” he said in a news release. “The overwhelming majority of educators in New York state give tests honestly and fairly. We’re going to make sure the actions of a few do not taint the reputation of the many. We’ve changed our process; we’re doing a much better job responding to these allegations, and the Test Security website is another step in that direction.”
Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring said the new website is a good idea because teachers might feel a little bit more comfortable pointing out an impropriety anonymously rather than to their fellow colleagues.
“As the stakes get high for individual teachers, we’ve got to take that lesson to be learned from Atlanta and that scandal down there and make sure there are a number of processes and procedures in place to try to eliminate any enticement or opportunity that might be available for someone to try to manipulate tests or the results,” he said.
Spring said all of these changes have made the process of grading exams more difficult, as the district has to schedule when teachers can grade certain exams.
“It’s a logistical exercise. I don’t know that particular piece costs us any additional money. It certainly increases the complexity of creating that exam schedule,” he said.
Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said he, too, believes the new website is a good idea. “Adding this tip line certainly gives folks an opportunity, if there is suspected fraud, to report it,” he said.
But he called the test security measures an example of another unfunded mandate.
“We’ll have to get substitutes and release teachers [from the classroom] to score exams,” he said.
DeLilli said there haven’t been any issues in Johnstown to his knowledge. He believes his employees would not have any hesitation reporting instances of cheating to an administrator or any difficulty doing so.
Jay Worona, counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, said he believes all of these safeguards the state is putting in place will limit instances of cheating. It is good for the educators to be the eyes and ears to protect the integrity of the tests. He compared the situation to the terrorism warnings in which Americans have been told to notify law enforcement personnel if they suspect something is not right.
“Why not make it just so easy that they can just go on a website and report it?” he said.