July 18th, 2012 :: The public release of this year’s California Standards Tests results will be delayed two weeks, until Aug. 31. Blame it on the students who took cell phones into test sites in April, and then posted photos of exam questions on Facebook and other social media.
ETS, the contractor for administering tests, and the state Department of Education have determined that the breach of security didn’t affect test results, Paul Hefner, spokesperson for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said Tuesday. But the effort it took to reach that conclusion – looking for patterns of irregularities in answers – has led to the delay, Hefner said.
Mainly high school students posted 441 photos from test sites on social media over about a 10-day period, Hefner said, but only 36 – less than 10 percent – were photos of actual test questions. The rest were shots of desks, closed exam books, and words that students created by filling in bubbles (clearly not the correct answers) on answer sheets. What worried ETS was the possibility that more photos were shared but not posted on the Internet.
Some schools apparently disciplined students who posted photos from the exams, but the Department of Education has not decided what, if any, action to take against districts that violated the no-phones protocol, Hefner said.
Facebook and other media sites cooperated when asked to take down the photos as a violation of copyrighted material, Hefner said.
STUDENTS' ONLINE PHOTOS OF CALIFORNIA TESTS DELAY RELEASE OF SCORES
Results of the standardized tests won't be released until Aug. 31. Millikan High in Long Beach and North Hollywood High are among the schools that could have their API scores invalidated, leading to sanctions or loss of grants.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |
A sample answer sheet for a standardized test is shown. Students at schools across California posted photos of standardized test materials on social media sites. Officials have delayed the release of the scores and are reviewing some schools, including North Hollywood High and Millikan High in Long Beach -- which could face sanctions. (Los Angeles Times)
July 18, 2012, 9:31 p.m. :: Student photos of state standardized tests posted on social networks have caused a two-week delay in the release of scores and could result in more serious ramifications for nearly 150 California schools.
In a letter sent to all state school districts this week, the Department of Education announced the postponement of the 2012 test results until Aug. 31.
"It is imperative that when districts, teachers, parents and students receive their test results, we all can be assured that the integrity of the system remains intact," Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said in the letter.
Most of the posted images were of such things as "closed test booklets or blank answer documents," said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the Education Department.
Still, students posted 36 different test items online, prompting an analysis by the state and the Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J. So far, experts have concluded that test scores were unaffected at the state or district level, Hefner said. Individual schools' scores remain under review.
A potential problem looms for campuses where students took the photos, most likely with their cellphones. In the worst-case scenario, these schools could lose scores on the state's Academic Performance Index, California's rating system for schools. That embarrassment also could expose a school to the loss of grants or to sanctions — because being stripped of a score means a school hasn't met performance targets.
The state identified one middle school and 11 high schools where one or more students posted test items. Officials said they would decide the fate of such schools.
But Long Beach Unified officials said they only learned Wednesday, from a reporter, that one of their schools, Millikan High, is on the state's list.
Ditto in L.A. Unified. North Hollywood High Principal Randy Delling, who didn't know his school was on the list, added that he isn't surprised the issue has arisen.
"The teenagers aren't held accountable in any way, shape or form for the test," he said. "Of course they're going to take a picture with a cellphone. They also write the names of their boyfriend or girlfriend in the bubbles on the answer sheet."
The problem emerged in April, near the start of the testing period. In all, 249 students posted 442 images on social-networking sites, including Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Webstagram and Pinterest. The 147 affected schools are spread across 94 school districts.
The issues are deeper than the 36 compromised items. A student who posted a vanity photo of himself posing with a test booklet also could have taken photos of test items that were shared among friends but never posted online.
A school can lose its score if 5% of tests are invalidated. Cheating or lesser mistakes by teachers and other staff led to canceled scores at about two dozen California schools last year.