April 2013: Schools put tests on lockdown

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April 2013: Schools put tests on lockdown

Test security

Here are steps some metro school districts take to try to prevent cheating, according to the school systems:

Clayton County adopted new precautions because of Atlanta’s cheating problems. Every school must go through on-site security training, safe rooms are only accessible by each school’s testing coordinator, and no teachers are permitted to test their own students.

Gwinnett County schools must each submit a testing plan and undergo mandatory training before every assessment.

Cobb County schools adhere to chain-of-custody procedures whenever testing materials leave or enter secure locations, and tests are counted to ensure none is missing.

Fulton County schools each designate a testing coordinator — usually an assistant principal — who manages test security. Each school has a locked storage area for tests, and only the testing coordinator has the key.

Atlanta schools’ standardized tests are treated like prison inmates: held in double-locked rooms, protected by a chain of custody and watched by video surveillance.

After investigations showing widespread cheating on Atlanta’s annual tests in 2009, school districts across the metro area have strengthened safeguards against tampering with students’ answers.

Atlanta students in grades three through eight will take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test starting Tuesday, and some districts already started the test last week.

Atlanta Public Schools has created the strictest protections in the region, keeping its test materials in “safe rooms” converted from closets or book rooms in every school that administers the CRCT.

Each safe room is accessible only by a principal or test coordinator, who must swipe a card and turn a separate key to open the door. Inside, stacks of shrink-wrapped tests are sealed until shortly before students put pencil to paper. Each time the tests change hands, administrators must sign off on the transfer.

If these “platinum level” testing security measures had been in place years ago, cheating may not have occurred, said Joe Blessing, director of testing and assessment for Atlanta Public Schools. A state investigation concluded that 178 educators had altered students’ grades in an effort to meet academic goals, often by erasing wrong answers after students completed their tests.

“There’s no way to fail-safe any process, but we believe that this could have prevented some of what happened, and we certainly believe that in the future, this is going to make it as safe and secure as possible,” Blessing said.

While students are taking the CRCT, the school district will dispatch monitors to each school who will go from classroom to classroom, inspecting each for improprieties, Blessing said.

At the end of each testing day, answer sheets will be placed in envelopes sealed with red-and-white tamper-proof tape and verified by a witness, Blessing said. If someone tried to remove the tape, some of it would still stick to the envelope as evidence of tampering. Live video streams feed to school district offices, and administrators will review video of any safe room that’s opened on a weekend.

When testing is completed, answer sheets are retaped and shipped to a district testing center, which then sends them to the testing vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, for grading. Drastic swings in test results compared to last year will trigger automatic investigations.

Across Georgia, standardized testing rules have become tougher in the aftermath of Atlanta’s cheating scandal.

The state assigns testing monitors to schools flagged for elevated numbers of wrong-to-right changes in answers on the CRCT, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. No schools in the Atlanta area, and only four in the state, fell into that category after last year’s test.

“You saw a very stark change in many places, and a lot of that is because the issue was exposed and we had monitors in those classrooms,” said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education. “The potential for cheating was severely limited.”

State guidelines also call for testing materials to be stored in secure locations with restricted access, and tests must be returned to a central location in the school district within three days after testing is completed.

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