March 28, 2011

DCPS Underscores Its Commitment to Testing Integrity 

Frequently Asked Questions About DC Public Schools’ Testing Security Procedures

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Today, USA Today ran a story documenting its investigation of alleged testing impropriety in DC public schools.

DCPS adheres to stringent training and test administration guidelines, and begins the thoughtful process of ensuring test security long before the first tests are given. Employees on every level of DCPS assist, from school-based to central office staff. When we are informed of possible test improprieties, we work closely with OSSE, and third party partners when necessary, to carefully and promptly investigate and take appropriate next steps.

In 2009, DCPS acted swiftly to bring in Caveon Test Security, an outside firm with vast expertise in the area of test security, after OSSE flagged a handful of schools for follow up investigations based on erasure data. For the majority of schools, the firm found no evidence of wrong-doing. For the rare cases in which the firm recommended a consequence or next step for individual staff or schools, we followed the firm's guidance diligently. We know that the vast majority of school staff and students approach the test with the highest integrity. However, for those rare incidences when staff and students fall short of this standard, we do not hesitate to act quickly to maintain or uphold the integrity of DCPS as a whole.

Out of fairness to our students and teachers, DCPS not comment on schools where no violation was substantiated after a full investigation. We can share though that we are committed to ensuring that our test taking procedures adhere to the highest standards of testing.

To support our commitment to integrity and accountability, we established a number of additional testing precautions this year to help ensure that each of our testing sites adheres to our administration protocols:

  • We brought in Caveon, LLC, an independent firm with leading market expertise in test security, to conduct independent reviews of school testing protocols and staff training.
  • We incorporated stricter protocols for receiving, storing and returning test materials into the school test plans per an independent review conducted by Caveon, LLC, after the 2010 CAS administration.
  • We provided every school with an independent observer from Central Office trained in test security protocols for the duration of the DC CAS testing window as well as additional monitoring for schools that have been identified as having prior test security issues.
  • We conducted unscheduled visits to testing schools to observe maintenance of secure test material storage and handling.
  • We conducted an independent review of every school test plan.

DCPS’ focus is to continue to be transparent, accountable and proactive in all aspects of our work. Certainly continued growth around testing – not just achievement but administration – is a priority.

DCPS adheres to the State Test Security Guidelines, administered by OSSE. The test security guidelines can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions About DC Public Schools’ Testing Security Procedures

Q: What does DCPS do to promote test security?
A: District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) adheres to stringent training and test administration guidelines, and begins the thoughtful process of ensuring test security long before the first tests are given. Employees on every level of DCPS assist us, from school-based to central office staff. When we are informed of possible test improprieties, we work closely with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and third-party partners when necessary, to carefully and promptly investigate and take appropriate next steps.

Q: What does DCPS do when a school is flagged for a follow-up investigation based on having a high erasure rate?
A:
DCPS has contracted with Caveon LLC, an independent firm with leading market expertise in test security, to conduct independent reviews of all flagged schools. The reviews include multiple school staff interviews and a comprehensive examination of testing protocols and staff training. Caveon provides DCPS with investigation findings, which DCPS submits to OSSE. Based on the investigation, OSSE provides DCPS with next steps and recommended consequences, which DCPS implements without hesitation.

Q: What are some reasons classrooms could have high erasure rates?
A:
Unlike some standardized tests, the DC CAS does not have a time limit. Students are encouraged to go back to review their answers and make corrections if needed. Some teachers encourage their students to use specific strategies that could yield high erasure rates. For example, during an interview with Caveon, one teacher described encouraging her students to eliminate wrong answers in the test booklet by marking them with an “X.” This approach can result in high erasure rates if students mark “X” on the answer sheet instead of the test booklet.

Q: Why doesn't DCPS release the names of the schools investigated?
A:
Out of fairness to our students and staff, DCPS will not release the names of schools where no violation was substantiated after a full investigation. Erasure data can signal a need for deeper inquiry but is not alone evidence of impropriety. There are reasons other than improper conduct that could lead to high erasure rates.

Q: How can you use test scores as a component of teacher evaluation and provide monetary awards to schools when there can be flaws in test scores?
A:
Every measure has flaws. Standardized test scores are no exception. However, we believe test scores have fewer flaws than many other options that have been used to make important decisions in education. In many school systems, teacher quality is determined by principal ratings alone. There are significant flaws in basing determinations of teacher effectiveness exclusively on the opinion of one person.

Caveon Consulting Services Releases Statement in Response to USA Today Article - March 28, 2011

Birney- Caveon Investigation February 24, 2010

Burville - Caveon Investigation February 23, 2010

Noyes - Caveon Investigation February 24, 2010

Shaed - Caveon Investigation February 24, 2010

Sousa - Caveon Investigation February 24, 2010

Stanton - Caveon Investigation February 23, 2010

Tyler - Caveon Investigation February 23, 2010

Walker Jones- Caveon Investigation February 23, 2010

Clarification on Redacted Investigation Reports: In order to preserve the anonymity of individual staff members, DCPS has redacted all names from these documents. Also redacted are specific references that could identify an individual – for example grade levels or specific programs in which a staff member participated. In the cases of principals or school testing coordinators, we have redacted their full interview, as each school has only one person in each of those roles. All instances of redaction are noted. In redacting these documents, DCPS aims to be fair to those individuals who have been cleared of any testing impropriety and to reassure staff in the future that any concerns they might raise about such impropriety will be kept in confidence.

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