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How The Lens investigated standardized testing problems

To report our story on standardized testing problems, The Lens cross-referenced data from five sets of state Department of Education documents:

  • 2010 and 2011 state test security reports, which the Department of Education compiled for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. There was no test security report for 2012 because BESE no longer requires it.

  • School district investigations into testing irregularities for 2010, 2011 and 2012, which were submitted to the state. These investigations may have been sparked by cheating allegations or by state education department monitoring. If state testing monitors find major infractions during their visits, districts are required to investigate and report back.

  • Documents provided by the state outlining how many schools were visited during testing in 2010 and 2011, and whether major or minor infractions were cited at each school:

  • The state’s description of what constitutes a major and minor infraction of testing rules

  • Documents outlining how many districts self-reported violations and requested that the state void tests

Limitations to this data

The biggest limitation to consider is that the information for 2012 is incomplete. For 2012, The Lens did not review major and minor infractions discovered during monitoring, and there is no test security report.

There are further documents detailing erasure analysis, plagiarism, administrative errors, district voids and state monitoring for 2012, but it wasn’t provided in response to The Lens’ original records request.

That request, made in December, asked for “any and all documentation that relates to cheating allegations and investigations that may have been reported to the department since August 2010.”

Department officials have since indicated that they would provide further public records.

The Lens did not request documents for 2013 because the testing cycle wasn’t complete when we made our original request.

How the state checks for cheating

The state checks for irregularities in several ways. Its scoring contractor, Data Recognition Corp., looks for tests with statistically improbable numbers of answers that have been changed to the correct one. It also reviews tests for similar written responses.

Results are provided to Department of Education officials, who decide whether to void those tests. Schools are instructed to fill out forms when they see students erasing repeatedly, and that factors into the state’s decision.

Each year, state test monitors visit schools that have had past testing problems, as well as other schools selected at random. Schools that are cited for major infractions must investigate and submit a corrective action plan to the state within 30 days.

District or school leaders may also self-report problems. When they do, state testing officials add the implicated school to a list of those to be monitored.

Know more? Tell us

Please contact Jessica Williams at jwilliams@thelensnola.org if you know about testing problems that aren’t included in our story or the documents.

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Join us for a live chat Thursday at 12:30 p.m. CDT to discuss our reporting.

Review the documents

You can browse and search all the documents used in this reporting, as well as a spreadsheet detailing all of the problems in these documents.

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