State officials cited at least 17 New Orleans schools for testing irregularities in the 2012-13 school year, according to a new report by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The review focused on standardized high-stakes exams, such as the ACT college readiness exam and the state’s LEAP and End of Course exams.

Among the problems:

  • 26 ACT tests were voided at Crescent Leadership Academy because the test was started 15 minutes late, according to school principal Chauncey Nash.

  • At the former O.P. Walker Senior High School, four tests were voided for plagiarism and five ACT tests were voided for being incorrectly labeled.

  • Four schools were cited for both plagiarism and improper test proctoring: Walker, John McDonogh Senior High School, Walter L. Cohen High School and McMain Secondary School.

None of the city’s schools were cited for excessive wrong-to-right answer changes. In 2011, 38 tests at four New Orleans schools were voided after they were flagged through computerized erasure analysis, which is considered a reliable way to root out cheating.

But officials voided LEAP, Graduate Exit Exams and End of Course tests at 11 schools for plagiarism, which could include bringing unauthorized materials to the test site, copying from another student’s test or receiving help from a teacher.

Four schools had to administer LEAP or End of Course retests after making mistakes in test administration that were serious enough to throw the test’s security into question.

And ACT officials voided tests at seven schools after proctors administered the tests incorrectly. Last year was the first time the state required high schoolers to take the college aptitude test.

17New Orleans schools cited in 20134Cited for both plagiarism and improper test proctoring

The state’s annual test-security report, the source of this data, does not list all schools where irregularities were found. It doesn’t detail problems detected by state officials who dropped in at schools to monitor testing. They visited more than 200 testing sites last year and found problems at 24, including three considered major.

A few other district-reported incidents that led to the voiding of 134 tests statewide are listed, but not detailed. This means that more New Orleans schools could have had problems.

A Lens analysis of 2011 testing problems found that New Orleans schools had a far higher rate of problems than those in the rest of the state.

From 2010 to 2012, at least 33 New Orleans schools had test irregularities, causing 130 tests to be voided. State officials voided almost 50 tests in 2011 at six schools for plagiarism or excessive answer changes.

Schools reported some problems to state

Under state guidelines, a testing irregularity is “any incident in test handling or administration that leads to a question regarding the security of the test or the accuracy of the test data.”

That can range from a teacher incorrectly accommodating a student on a test — such as reading aloud a question to a student who doesn’t require special treatment — to a teacher nudging or overtly directing students toward correct answers.

The problem with the ACT tests at Crescent Crescent Leadership Academy was that administrators started the test at 8:45 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m., Nash said. “ACT is very strict, and we were very honest,” Nash said.

School leaders reported the issue to the state. Other schools, too, reported improper proctoring.

School leaders told The Lens that three of the citations for plagiarism were actually misunderstandings.

Sharon Clark, who runs Sophie B. Wright Charter School, said one End of Course Biology test was voided after a student began to take it on a computer and had to start over  because of a technical issue.

Adrian Morgan of the six-school Algiers Charter School Association said that he has appealed the state’s decision to void two eighth-grade LEAP English tests at William J. Fischer Accelerated Academy. He said the two students whose tests were voided were not even in the same room.

At Walker, also part of the Algiers Charter School Association, four tests were voided for plagiarism. The problems at Walker, which has since merged with the former L.B. Landry High School, cropped up during administration of two different examinations, an End of Course test and a Graduate Exit Exam.

Morgan said his team investigated each of the incidents, and students weren’t permitted to graduate or to move to the next grade until they retook the test.

Also at that school, test proctors tagged five students’ ACT tests with the wrong code, and ACT officials voided those tests, Morgan said.

“We are certainly committed to having zero errors this year,” he said.

5Orleans Parish School Board schools cited11Recovery School District schools cited

Recovery School District: Tests kept secure

Eleven schools cited for plagiarism or improper test proctoring were overseen by the Recovery School District. The district oversees more than 60 New Orleans schools, and RSD officials said they train both charter and direct-run schools in test security.

RSD limits opportunities for cheating “by storing tests in a central location to make certain that tests are on site for as little time as possible,” Cay Kimbrell, RSD’s chief of staff for external affairs, said in an email. The district also investigates anytime the state voids tests, she said.

Another five Orleans Parish School Board schools – McMain, Warren Easton Senior High School, Einstein Charter School, McDonogh 35 College Preparatory School and McDonogh 35 Career Academy – were cited for plagiarism or improper test monitoring. The parish school board oversees 20 schools.

“Upon finding out, we reported it to the district, and the district reported it to the state. We are proud of and stand by our testing record and take the process seriously.”—Shawn Toranto, Einstein Charter School

Orleans Parish School Board testing coordinator Bridget Brown and the board’s interim superintendent, Stan Smith, did not respond to inquiries about test security, but Smith has said that the parish school board was working to reduce plagiarism by making sure students don’t sit close together during testing.

In the Einstein case, a test proctor inadvertently failed to equip a 4th grader with the calculator required for a LEAP math test, Einstein leader Shawn Toranto said in an email.

“Upon finding out, we reported it to the district, and the district reported it to the state. We are proud of and stand by our testing record and take the process seriously,” she said.

And at Easton, the state voided three End of Course tests for plagiarism. Whenever something like that happens, the students must attend remediation and retake the test, according to a statement of school test policy provided by principal Alexina Medley. The End of Course test is counted as the student’s final exam for the class, and a student could fail the course if he doesn’t do well on the test.

State officials voided two Graduate Exit Exams in social studies for plagiarism at another charter, the International High School of New Orleans. That school is overseen by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nan Ryan, the assistant head of school, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Proctoring errors sometimes innocent, sometimes not

At Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business, test administrators made errors on End of Course and ACT tests. A student took the wrong test in one case, and in the other an administrator started a test late, affecting seven students.

Miller-McCoy’s test training “will be in-depth and ongoing to ensure that test security is clearly understood,” school spokesman Paul Dauphin said in an email.

Many proctoring errors like this appear to be minor. But these could be evidence of someone trying to game a test, one researcher argues.

“The percentage of systematic cheating, where people take the test afterwards and erase things, that’s probably very low. The playing-with-the-rules type of cheating, that’s probably higher than it ever was, in my opinion.”—David Berliner, Arizona State University professor

David Berliner, a professor at Arizona State University, has seen instances in which teachers gave children more time on a test to help them boost their scores —  and later claimed it was an administrative mistake.

“The percentage of systematic cheating, where people take the test afterwards and erase things, that’s probably very low. The playing-with-the-rules type of cheating, that’s probably higher than it ever was, in my opinion,” Berliner has said.

Dauphin stressed that the school reported what happened to the state. And Elizabeth Ostberg, principal at The NET Charter School, where three students had to retake English tests after an administrator mistakenly left dictionaries in the testing room, said she reported that as well.

The NET and Crescent Leadership are two of the city’s alternative schools, which provide individualized extra help to students. But that stops when it’s time for standardized tests, unless state policy allows the student special accommodation, Ostberg said.

“We are obviously always on the lookout for the possibility that someone could be leading a kid. But it’s never, ever come up as a concern,” she said.

New Orleans schools with testing irregularities, 2012-13

11 schools cited for plagiarism

  • Warren Easton Charter High School

  • O.P. Walker Senior High School

  • Walter L. Cohen High School

  • L.B. Landry High School

  • William J. Fischer Accelerated Academy

  • McMain Secondary School

  • International High School of New Orleans

  • Sarah T. Reed High School

  • McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School

  • John McDonogh Senior High School

  • Sophie B. Wright Charter School

7 cited during the ACT testing

  • McDonogh 35 Career Academy

  • McMain Secondary School

  • O. P. Walker Senior High School

  • Walter L. Cohen High School

  • John McDonogh Senior High School

  • Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business

  • Crescent Leadership Academy

4 with self-reported administrative errors

  • The NET Charter High School

  • Einstein Charter School

  • Intercultural Charter School (now closed)

  • Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...