Monday, July 25, 2011

Holliday Moves to Forestall Cheating Scandals

Recent revelations about the depth and scope of administrators and teachers cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta, Pennsylvania, DC, New Jersey, and other locations has rocked the education reform movement threatening to undermine public confidence in gains made by the system. And Kentucky has not been immune to this issue.This inevidable result was forecast by KSN&C way back in 2007 when we wrote about Campbells' Law.

In response to recent events, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday listed several steps KDE is taking to prevent such an occurance in Kentucky in his “Fast 5 on Friday” (not yet posted to the KDE website):

Specific actions that Kentucky is taking in this area are:

1. Writing an RFP for a Test Security Audit to learn how to improve security. The audit will review our current test security procedures and provide us with additional ideas to improve security.
2. Building into our new test vendor contracts forensic processes to uncover inappropriate activities.
3. Continuing with the regulatory steps of having all educators trained on test procedures and having all educators read and sign a Code of Ethics document.
4. Continuing with having an investigative unit within KDE to deal with inappropriate test allegations.
5. Considering a possible legislative proposal for the 2012 session.
6. Implementing a balanced accountability model and teacher/principal effectiveness system that does NOT focus solely on test scores.
Improving test security is probably good. Forensic process built into the test design might help. Training and a code of ethics are necessary but not sufficient. An investigative unit to deal with allegations of inappropriate testing is necessary - but why must it be within KDE?  Better still - the OEA where no one benefits personally from improved test scores. Possible legislation? What legislation? At teacher or administrator can already be removed for cheating. The weakness is not within the law, per se, it is within human nature - when people are strongly motivated to produce a specific result that may be beyond their ability to produce by legitimate means.The best idea is the last one. Student achievement results should not comprise too much of a teacher's evaluation, not because the results are not important, but because we lack a fair way to assess it in most cases.

This from Dr H's Blog:
In the spring of 2009, I had the honor of standing on stage with my fellow state superintendents of the year at the annual American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference in San Francisco. Little did I know that one day I would be working with one of the four finalists -- Stu Silberman -- in Kentucky.

This past week, I was reminded of that recognition ceremony but not in a positive way. Beverly Hall was selected as the AASA National Superintendent of the Year in 2009. Beverly was the superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools at that time. This week, the state of Georgia released the results of an investigation concerning cheating by principals and teachers on standardized tests.

This report from Georgia comes on the heels of two major national reports on standardized testing. From the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a recent report entitled Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education and from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a report entitled Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform. I think it appropriate to highlight some of the key points from these reports.

The NAS report has two major conclusions and two major recommendations. The report concludes that test-based incentive programs have not increased student achievement enough to bring the U.S. close to the levels of the highest-achieving countries. The other conclusion is that high school exit exam programs decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.

The recommendations from the report promote the development and evaluation of promising new models that use test-based incentives in more sophisticated ways as one aspect of a richer accountability and improvement process. Also, the report recommends that policymakers and researchers design and evaluate new test-based incentive programs in ways that provide information about alternative approaches to incentives and accountability.

From the NCEE report, the basic premise is that the U.S. should look to those practices from countries that are performing at higher levels than the U.S. on international assessments. The report discusses a focus on teacher preparation, rigorous standards, continuous improvement and support for the existing teaching force. The report highlights the fact that no country performing at higher levels than the U.S. has a singular focus on standardized testing and incentives related to performance on standardized testing.

What does the Atlanta scandal and other testing scandals in D.C. and Baltimore mean for our work in Kentucky? What implications do we draw from these recent reports? The key learning for me is balance. Standardized tests do not create scandals. People create scandals. How leaders both in the classroom and outside the classroom utilize results from standardized tests can either create a focus on improvement of teaching and learning or create negative pressure. How leaders use the results for personnel decisions and incentives can either create a focus on teaching and learning or create negative conditions for teaching and learning.

In Kentucky we are committed to a growth model for our accountability system that is balanced. We are committed to utilizing standardized test results as part of the accountability model; however, test results will not be the singular component of the model. While the state can certainly set the tone, it will always be up to individual school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers to model professional behavior for the eyes that are watching – the students.


Grant Cantrell said...

I understand the need for these 6 steps of action. A cheating scandal is not only front page but national news. However, I see many of these actions as just window dressing for curtailing the problem.

When school funding and jobs are on the line with these tests more security is a necessity. There is too much at stake here for the school and its employees. As for the steps I really only see #6 and #3 doing much good. More training is suggested in #3 and for test administration this can in no way be a bad idea. The more rules and regulations are gone over and stressed the less gray area there can be when the test is actually given. Also, a code of ethics is generally a good idea, one would hope in the realm of education and educators it wouldn't be necessary but it helps in appealing to ones conscious.
Now to #6, this seems like the fixer to me. Not putting all the focus on test scores just seems like common sense. I understand test scores are important and they should be a factor in rating both teachers and schools but having them being the only factor is ludicrous. Numbers do not tell the whole story in fact they only tell one side. To judge on a test score alone does not account for student growth. Grades are not calculated in schools on tests alone; there is homework, participation, and probably other points possible that go into a rating. To base productivity or effectiveness on one score only when in reality that score could mean very little to the student taking the test is just wrong. These steps are a good starting point from which to work but there is still definitely work to be done in this area.

Elizabeth Altman said...

I think that the actions Kentucky is taking to prevent inappropriate behaviors regarding state testing are very good. Obviously, testing is a huge part of schools now. All educators, principals, superintendents, etc. feel the pressure to do very well on these tests. I think it is very important that people remember these tests are completely for the students. They are to ensure students are receiving good educations and that students are working up to their abilities. It is unfair to completely judge a teacher on these scores, so it is good that the state is making strides to ensure teachers are evaluated in more than one way. Taking the huge testing burden off of teachers may even improve test scores. If the teacher feels less stress regarding the test, maybe the students will also feel less and take the test feeling more relaxed.

Kendra Compton said...

In my opinion, the specific actions Kentucky is taking to prevent a cheating like the one we saw in Atlanta is a good effort but cannot fully protect the students from this occurring to their test scores. I don’t understand why these tests have to be in the hands of the teachers at all! Can the Kentucky Board of Education not train individuals (those who have no connection to the school) to simply go into the schools and distribute the tests and collect all data needed so that they are never in the hands of the school’s faculty? This may seem extreme to some but in my opinion it needs to come to this because why even asses the students if there is a slight chance the results are false anyway. I do agree with Dr. H’s comment that “student achievement results should not compromise too much of a teachers evaluation”. The fear these tests have instilled into teachers is probably the only reason why cheating the tests has become an issue. If a student does poor on the test, teachers should not be in fear of keeping their job. The tests should NOT determine the quality of the teacher! There should be an emphasis on the tests and all teachers should strive to prepare students for them but the tests shouldn’t be a main judgment on the teacher’s performance!

Eric Paycheck said...

I my own words, I think that what Kentucky is doing in response to the cheating scandal to make our test me reliable are good things. Making the tests are more secure is never a bad thing. But I think most people would agree with me when I say that the real way to make sure that this kind of thing never happens in Kentucky, or anywhere else for that matter is to ask yourself, why the teachers and facility felt the need to cheat? I think the answer to this is the pressure that teachers feel to produce good test scores. I am not saying that a teacher can be a terrible teacher and just keep their job, but this test could get a teacher fired. In my opinion if you wanted to make sure that this never happens again one of the things you must do is make the tests not the only factor in a teacher review. This will help curve the need to cheat on the tests. But in regards to what Kentucky is doing with these test, I agree and support that is being done.

Alex Jones said...

I think that what Kentucky is doing to ensure that a cheating scandal like what happened in Atlanta doesn't happen here is good. I think it's great that they're making the test more secure. After what happened in Atlanta it's obvious that teachers take these testing assessments too far. It seems that teachers do not care so much about how much the students are really learning and if they are getting the material, but rather how well their schools do to make themselves look good. Even though Kentucky is taking measures to ensure that a cheating scandal does not happen here, I feel that there may be some ways around it. I think that it is terrible that a teacher would even think about doing this. Cheating on a students test score is doing nothing but taking away from the students. Hopefully something like this never happens in a Kentucky school system.