ALBANY -- A Board of Regents committee unanimously agreed on Monday to appoint an independent investigator to search for shortcomings in how the state responds to complaints of educator cheating on standardized tests.
The decision to investigate its own procedures is an early step in the state’s effort to follow a new series of recommendations designed to more effectively prevent test tampering by teachers and administrators. By acting now, the state is hoping to prevent the kind of scandal over standardized test cheating that has erupted in Atlanta and elsewhere in the country, state officials said.
Members of the Regents, the state education policy board, also voted to permit state education officials to conduct further research into more substantive changes in how New York administers its tests. State officials are looking into banning teachers from proctoring and scoring their own students' exams, and switching from local scoring of tests in centers throughout the state to a centralized scoring system.
“We administer 6 million assessments a year,” said John B. King, Jr., in calling for the additional measures. “That’s a lot of tests, and that creates a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong.”
In a half-hour of discussion, Regents members expressed several concerns, including how the new measures would affect the school and testing calendar, and whether some students may be too young to have someone other than a teacher proctor their exam.
One key concern was the potential cost of centralized scoring. State officials did not give a cost estimate, but similar costs in other states are substantial, at least several million dollars a year.
The state has already had difficulty making ends meet in its $38 million a year testing budget. This year, a $8 million shortfall in money authorized by the Legislature led to the cancellation of several tests, including the January Regents exams. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and other private individuals donated $1.5 million to reinstate that exam.
“It really is important to have a collegial debate with the people across the street” at the state legislature about funding, said James R. Tallon, Jr. a Regent representing several upstate counties. “Everyone agrees the system ought to be good enough to do the job.”
Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, spoke in favor of the changes, but also sought to emphasize that the state did not want teachers to feel they are not trusted.
"This board believes in the teaching force across the state,” Dr. Tisch said. “However, that being said, it is incumbent upon us to do the best job we can do to make sure that the data we are putting out to parents, teachers, and administrators, is the absolute best it can be."