State Ed. gets ‘F’ for test security

Just in case you have not heard, there has been some controversy going around in educational circles lately regarding the testing of students in public schools. Teachers, school administrators, parents and politicians have been weighing in almost daily on the good or evil of testing and how it positively or negatively affects children in the classroom.

Another little ripple crossed the pond recently as the test results of more than 300 students in a school in New York state were invalidated by the state Education Department due to the fact that questions may have been seen by students prior to them taking the test.

In short, copies of the 2013 test were retained by the school district, and used to prepare students for the 2014 test.

The glitch is some of the questions on the 2013 test were also found on the 2014 test -thus making the test invalid in the estimation of state education department officials.

There was not a problem with the school district keeping the 2013 tests. They had a choice of returning the used exams to the state education department or retaining them in the district.

However, if a district chooses to retain the tests, they need to store them securely for one year and then destroy them securely, according to a spokesperson for the state Department of Education.

Destroy them securely? How does one do that? To me, if they are destroyed, that is pretty much the end of it. Talk about redundant. That seems tantamount to putting an expiration date on sour cream; it is already sour, so who cares? But that is another article.

Anyway, the tests were all deemed invalid by the state education department after a thorough investigation by the Test Security and Educator Integrity Unit – which, by the way, costs state taxpayers over $1 million per year. The students cannot take the examinations again, because they are only given once per year. The results cannot be used to evaluate teachers or the school program – which, by the way, is not the purpose for which they should be used, but fits well with many political agendas.

Finally, as an extra added bonus, the school district will be seen as not making Adequate Yearly Progress, which could negatively affect state aid to the district next year, because the state education department regulations state, “Regardless of the reason, if less than 95 percent of a school’s students take the math or ELA assessments, the school does not make AYP.”

What a mess.

Now, of course, the finger pointing will begin. Who is to blame? Who will be held accountable? Who will pay for this heinous transgression of the rules of good testing? From where I sit, the state Department of Education failed both the English language arts and math portions of this test.

According to the dictionary “secure” means in part “free from or not exposed to danger or harm; safe.dependable; firm; not liable to fail, yield, become displaced, etc.” Leaving tests that are supposed to be secure in the field is like leaving your wallet on a park bench. If the powers that be at the education department want the tests to be secure, they should collect them after they are administered – all of them. That goes to the math part of the exam; if you send out two, or three or 400,000 exams, isn’t it reasonable that you will collect the exact same number?

There is a simple fix here: End this needless testing. If you are not a fan of simple, how about easier? After the tests are given, leave them in the schools to be used for the professional development of teachers and preparation of students for the next batch of testing, and create a new test each year. I am sure the state Department of Education can come up with new ways each year to ask, what does 2 + 2 equal?

John Metallo, of Slingerlands, is a retired teacher and administrator.