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How to Avoid Testing Irregularities

One administrator uses professional development to steer clear of inadvertent violations of testing protocol.

Nancy Diana Jones has not seen irregularities in administering the state’s standardized tests in the Encinitas (Calif.) Union School District, which consists of seven elementary schools in San Diego County. Jones, as administrator of support services, has been in charge of standardized testing for seven years. She credits her office’s vigilance and a strong message from Superintendent Timothy Baird that “puts high-stakes testing into perspective and emphasizes that these tests are only one measure of student achievement.”

Jones believes that inadvertent violations of testing protocols, rather than deliberate cheating, pose the greatest threats to test security in many districts. “There are times when people make mistakes and just don’t understand the complexities of what is allowable and what it not allowable,” she explains.

An example that Jones recalls is something she heard from an administrator in another district. A teacher—concerned that her students would be confused by the short extension at the front of their rulers—cut off that part so the rulers would begin exactly at 0 inches. “She was so proud of it and announced it in the teachers’ lounge,” Jones says. “I remind our teachers that they cannot be creative. When instructions say students may not use scratch paper in the language arts test, you cannot use scratch paper.”

Jones takes plenty of steps to make sure that no such breaches occur. “I have to be as knowledgeable as I can about California’s STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program,” says Jones. Toward this end, she regularly attends professional development workshops, where she swaps testing methods and concerns with fellow administrators around the state, tunes in to Web seminars, and stays abreast of the 143-page state manual on testing procedures and protocols.

Jones takes the additional step of highlighting the most important points in that manual before it goes out to the district’s principals and their testing coordinators. “We clarify it, underline it, and put in notations. And the principals feel comfortable doing that.”

Those educators also receive a three-hour training each year in which they cover the situations that can lead to testing irregularities, from the discussion of test questions before the test to improper erasures afterward. (After students hand in their answer sheets, proctors are allowed to erase stray marks before forwarding the finished tests to the state.) “One of the things we emphasize is that this [testing procedure] is not art,” explains Jones. “It’s science, and every student has to take the test exactly the same way. This is not the time for teachers to take liberties.”