In most schools, the security of standardized tests is usually a pretty big deal. New York City public schools just finished our ELA and Math state tests. I can’t tell you how many times I had to count my students’ tests, recount them, and then sign my life away (twice) that everything was accounted for. Later this year, the Second Language Proficiency test I give to my students will come in a metal box with a heavy duty padlock securing it. One year we had to repeatedly bang the padlock on a table to get the key out — they’re not exactly messing around with light-weight equipment for these tests.
I guess it makes sense that if we’re going to subject our kids to high-pressure, high-stakes testing, we should at least make sure that the integrity of the materials are not compromised. Especially in the case of the ELA and Math tests in New York, if students don’t pass them (assuming they don’t have specific promotional criteria), they don’t move on without retaking them in summer school. It’s logical then, I suppose, to treat test security with so much gravity.
So I am sure that officials in California were less than thrilled to find hundreds of pictures of their recently administered standardized tests popping up on Facebook and other social media websites. According to an article by Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times, California is about halfway through their bout of standardized tests.
These tests will not necessarily be used to rate the students themselves, but will weigh in on each school’s Academic Performance Index and ultimately influence decisions about which schools deserve to be closed, sanctioned, or completely revamped. If 5% of a school’s tests are disqualified either due to cheating or errors made by those administering the test, schools could lose their Academic Performance Score entirely. As Blume points out, this score plays a big role in whether or not parents will seek out a specific school for their children. If they subsequently decide to settle in the area, their tax dollars will flow back into the school, allowing it to have greater access to resources to boost student achievement. Consequently, a possible cheating spree is kind of a big deal in schools’ minds.
From the LA Times:
“‘Most of the images discovered so far contained only students posing with a closed test booklet, blank answer documents, or answer documents with a message written on them,’ the State Education Department said in a release. Some images, however, ‘appeared to contain test questions or completed answer documents’ from both the annual achievement tests and the state’s high school exit exam, which is required for graduation.”
Regardless of whether or not students posted actual answers to specific questions, if they had a cell phone to take a picture of their test, they could have also used that same phone to look up answers to difficult questions online. Obviously, whoever administered the tests to these students needs to be more vigilant in the future, but for this year at least, the validity of the tests may have already been compromised.
Given the security issues this whole Facebook fiasco has unearthed, a few already much-debated questions come to mind:
1. In states where student achievement is directly assessed by standardized tests, should students’ academic futures even be tied to a few days’ worth of testing?
2. Is student performance on standardized tests an effective way to judge individual schools and school districts?
3. Given that it has become increasingly difficult to guarantee the security of testing materials (among many other reasons), might it be time to actively seek out a different method?
What do you think?
Photo Credit: birgerking via Flickr