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State Will Overhaul Its Handling of Test-Tampering Complaints

Friday, March 16, 2012 - 12:21 AM

The New York StateEducation Department announced on Thursday that it would hire a team of investigators and lawyers to overhaul and modernize the state’s handling of test tampering complaints.

The announcement followed the completion of a four-month review by Henry M. Greenberg, a lawyer appointed by the Board of Regents to investigate how the department collects and reviews allegations. According to a five-page summary of the report’s findings — state officials would not release it in full — the department “cannot adequately receive, review and follow-up on reports of allegations in the administration and scoring of state assessments.”

Mr. Greenberg found that the department relied on an antiquated, paper-based method of recording and tracking complaints, maintained an incomplete database of allegations and required only principals to report suspected malfeasance, not teachers, which most likely led to underreporting.

John M. King Jr., the state education commissioner, and Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, announced a series of policy changes on Thursday, including the creation of the “test security unit” made up of investigators and lawyers, as well as plans for the state to conduct investigations into serious claims of test tampering, rather than leave them up to local districts. Officials are also proposing to increase penalties for school staff members who are found cheating and to mandate that any person who learns of test tampering report it to the state.

“This was not in response to any specific discovery of any sort of systemic problem, but rather a proactive attempt to ensure that we avoid those problems going forward,” Dr. King said.

Yet complaints of test tampering on the state Regents exams have soared in recent years, in New York City and across the state. According to a state database, which was obtained by The New York Times in October of last year, 7 percent of city public high schools faced allegations of test tampering in the 2009-10 school year, up from 1 percent in 2002-3.

The Regents responded last October by banning teachers from grading their own students’ state standardized tests, ending a long-standing practice as old as the tests themselves. It will go into effect in the 2012-13 school year for standardized exams given to elementary, middle and high school students.

They have also asked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for $2.1 million to improve oversight of the state exams, by employing a system of erasure analysis to see suspicious patterns and by switching to computer-based testing to make it easier for teachers to grade tests from other schools or even other cities.

Neither the governor nor state lawmakers have included the money for this in proposed budgets, but Dr. King said he remained optimistic that it would materialize. If it does not, the department may be forced to scale back and slow down its plans, he said.

Mr. Greenberg, a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig, is a former assistant United States attorney and was a senior legal adviser to Mr. Cuomo when he was the attorney general of New York. He will present his findings to the Board of Regents on Monday, when the board will be asked to vote on the new proposal.

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