November 2011 Issue
October 26, 2011

State takes steps to improve test integrity

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Starting next school year, New York teachers will no longer grade their own students' state standardized tests — but it is unclear how the new system will be implemented.

The move, approved by the Board of Regents in October, is part of a plan to improve the integrity of the state's assessment system. A work group of State Education Department staff appointed in August found no evidence of widespread cheating in New York.

"The Regents and department have faith that virtually all educators are doing the right thing," SED Commissioner John King said. "However, where possible, if we can eliminate potential breakdowns in test integrity, we should."

This action may cause changes in the Regents exam schedule for 2012-13. Several Regents expressed concerns that moving the exams earlier would cut instructional and review time and pose attendance problems.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira noted the change in the scoring process could also pose logistical problems in small and rural districts, where there might be only one physics or chemistry teacher. The Regents directed SED to work further with the field on local implementation details.

"This will be challenging, however there are examples of how it can be done successfully throughout the state," King said.

In Ulster BOCES, he noted seven of eight districts participate in regional scoring for grade 3-8 assessments. In eastern Suffolk BOCES, regional scoring is done for Regents exams. New York City is currently exploring a distributed scoring platform, an electronic means of sharing open response answer documents for independent scoring by "non-vested" teachers.

King noted the state plans to move to computer-based testing in 2014-15. New York is one of several states in the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC consortium.

After concerns were raised by the field, SED has backed off on recommendations to prohibit teachers from proctoring their own students' exams, as well as a plan to require statewide centralized scoring.

The cost to implement state-centralized scoring is an estimated $10 million to $12 million annually. SED staff says it makes more sense for local districts to use external, regional or computerized scoring for teachers to grade open response questions.

Further investigation found that very few states prohibit teachers from proctoring their own students' exams, so for now, that idea is off the table.

In addition, several Regents expressed concerns that younger students could find it stressful to have someone other than their own teacher proctor their exams.

In an effort to further safeguard the integrity of the state's tests, the Regents agreed to ask the Legislature and governor for more than $2 million for additional test integrity measures. The breakdown is:

  • $1 million in the 2012-13 state budget to perform scanning/erasure analysis on multiple choice questions for 10 percent of grade 3-8 assessments and Regents exams;
  • $700,000 to support additional inter-rater reliability analysis, or consistency of open response scoring, on grade 3-8 assessments and Regents exams;
  • $200,000 to support additional data forensics to improve the state's ability to identify testing irregularities; and
  • $200,000 to plan and begin a computer-based testing pilot.

Neira noted the state needs to find funding to ensure that testing costs are not pushed down to school districts.

"There are many operational issues, based on the size of the district," Neira said. "We're pleased they have agreed to seek further field input. This process should include a procedure for staff to report violations."