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Louisiana follows experts’ tips to prevent, detect standardized test cheating

The Louisiana Department of Education is following best practices in preventing, detecting and responding to cheating on standardized tests, according to The Lens’ review of state policy.

In February 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, hosted a symposium on testing integrity. A panel of 16 experts discussed how schools can prevent, detect, and respond to cheating on standardized tests.

Drawing on a video and transcript of the conference, The Lens reviewed the Louisiana Department of Education’s testing procedures and how they are implemented.

The department’s procedures are mostly in line with the experts’ nearly 30 recommendations.

Louisiana’s approach seems to be paying off, at least when it comes to reported irregularities. Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of tests — about 600 out of more than 600,000 — were voided in Louisiana schools last year for testing problems.

However, New Orleans schools have a higher rate of testing problems.

The voided tests came from about 190 of the state’s 1,445 schools.

But the state falls short of the experts’ recommendations for online testing security, a concern that will only grow as more students take online tests aligned with the Common Core standards. And although experts say investigations should not be conducted by employees of the school in question, in Louisiana some independent charter schools are allowed to investigate themselves.

Here are some of the experts’ recommendations and how Louisiana stacks up:

Before testing

Develop a precise definition of what constitutes cheating.

According to the panel, education officials should define violations of test security in state policy. Teachers shouldn’t examine or copy test items beforehand, coach students during the test, or administer practice tests based on tests from prior years.

Louisiana’s prohibitions cover the “three degrees of cheating” described at the symposium by Arizona State University associate professor Audrey Amrein-Beardsley:

  1. Covert first-degree cheating, such as giving a student the answer

  2. Subtle second-degree cheating, such as telling a student to “rethink” the answer during a test

  3. Inadvertent third-degree cheating, such as “teaching to the test” or teaching to previous tested items

Train and certify principals and teachers as test administrators.

The state requires each school district to have a test coordinator who trains educators on test security and administration. All teachers have to sign an oath that indicates they were trained in test security.

Success Preparatory Academy, featured in our look at standardized testing, is one of many schools that hold multiple test-security trainings every year.

During testing

Schools should limit who has access to tests. They should store test materials in a secure location and establish consequences for failing to secure them.

Louisiana testing guidelines say that school test coordinators must secure all test materials in a locked storage area, ensuring that teachers don’t see tests before test day.

In violation of these rules, a teacher at Gibsland-Coleman High School in Bienville Parish got a test before spring 2012 testing and copied the questions to help her students out later.

The school’s test coordinators were “relieved of their responsibilities” as a result, according to state documents. Administrators changed where tests were stored and rekeyed locks. And students were videotaped as they took the tests.

State education agencies should monitor test administration.

Last year, 70 Louisiana Department of Education employees visited more than 200 school testing sessions around the state during spring testing. Officials found 20 cases of testing infractions.

Have enough computers to ensure security of computerized testing.

In Louisiana, many schools lack sufficient computers and infrastructure needed to administer computer-based tests to all of their students at once.

The state requires schools to have at least one computer for every seven students. That means a student who has already tested could tip off a classmate who hasn’t taken it yet.

Experts warned that this is a serious risk for test security. Wayne Camara, vice president for research and development with The College Board, recommended at least one computer for every four students.

After testing

Conduct comprehensive analyses to find irregularities.

In Louisiana, officials scan tests for unusual numbers of wrong-to-right answer changes, which typically indicates cheating. Officials also check for plagiarism and for unusually large year-to-year gains at individual schools. Experts said these tactics are key to finding problems.

Ensure that the people investigating problems aren’t employed by the school under review.

Trained district coordinators in Louisiana investigate any claim of cheating within their district.

Under Louisiana law, some charter schools and charter management groups are considered their own districts. That means a school administrator could end up examining an allegation of cheating at his own school.

This happened in 2010 when the board that governs Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business conducted its own investigation of a cheating allegation.

The board found no wrongdoing, but an independent Recovery School District investigation concluded that some teachers had cheated.

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