Latest Test Security Issue Creates Anxiety for Teachers

test, pencil, test-taking, testing
Photo by Brett Dickerson

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Atlanta test cheating scandal fresh on their minds, Oklahoma teachers have had a higher-than-usual level of anxiety over a security flub by a test vendor.

Earlier this week news started leaking out from teachers who are taking training to begin the Spring testing season that seals on every third grade reading and math test booklet were missing.

Third grade teachers state-wide have their reputations and evaluations riding on their students’ performance on the tests.

As that news spread, social media started to buzz about the possible consequences to the seals being missing. Teachers had a lot of questions about negative possibilities.

  • When the test booklet instructions are very plain to instruct students to break the seal on their booklet, what happens if the teacher/test administrator leaves that part of the instructions out as they were later instructed to do in training?
  • Could a teacher have their license in jeopardy if they went ahead with administering the tests?
  • When results come out later and they show marked improvement for a particular teacher, will the lack of a seal on the packet cause others to question the validity of the results?

In a discussion on social media, one teacher said, “I think y’all should support teachers’ refusal to administer tests that aren’t sealed.”

That teacher went on to argue,

Also, the “script” is wrong so the Test Administrator has to go off script to administer the tests. In order for teachers to have their certificates protected, it seems that specific script by the SDE should be developed and immunity from prosecution should be distributed, before Teachers administer the test.

Rob Miller, a middle school principal and education blogger, wrote in a recent post,

If I was a third grade teacher, I would not touch these booklets without a witness or proctor with me at all times. Based on what happened last week with the Atlanta educators, I’m not taking any chances. The message has been clearly communicated.Don’t cheat.

More importantly, don’t even put yourself in a position where someone might suspect or accuse you of cheating.

The lack of security seals on these tests puts teachers at increased risk of false accusations on their integrity. What happens next year if a teacher’s scores go up higher than would normally be predicted? Will some people think the teacher somehow gained an advantage by viewing this year’s test? If yes, will an investigation be ordered?

At least one legislator, Jason Dunnington (D-HD88), asked the Oklahoma State Department of Education about the changes made to the third grade test instructions.

He reported back to several teachers that he was convinced that there would not be any repercussions to teachers following the revised instructions not to tell students to break the seal on their test booklet that is not there anyway.

But not everyone was as nervous or concerned as some.

Tyler Bridges, a current and experienced school administrator, said in one social media chat,

District test coordinators get probably 10+ emails a year about changes in directions bc of mistakes. These emails come from the vendor in conjunction with the SDE so they wouldn’t invalidate someone’s license for deviating where instructed. It was a stupid mistake, yes, but not a huge deal.

Intersections asked State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister about the impact of the changes in the instructions on teachers’ credentials.

In a prepared email response, Hofmeister said,

None of the third-grade test booklets were sealed by the print vendor, despite a directive to do so by Measured Progress. This does not jeopardize the integrity of the tests. On March 25, the Oklahoma State Department of Education notified school districts that this only necessitated altering half a sentence in the administration manual that includes instructions to students. Students simply won’t be told to break the seal — that’s the extent of the change.

District and building test coordinators still have a stringent protocol to maintain that guards against tests being compromised. The lack of a seal is unfortunate, but it is not of major significance.

Hofmeister’s Executive Director of Communications provided the key paragraph in the modified instructions to test administrators:

Grade 3 Security Seals
The grade 3 reading and math test books should have security seals but do not, therefore the directions read to the students in the Test Administration Manual will not be correct. Please do not read the instructions in the Test Administration Manual telling the students: “Use your pencil to break the seal and” on the top of page 14 for mathematics and on the top of page 21 for reading.

Yet, some teachers are still on edge and say that they plan to make sure that they have another witness present at all points along the chain of custody of the tests during administration.