A Matter of Trust

Anyone who has served as test administrator for a paper and pencil Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) in the past few years is familiar with this warning: “Only the student taking the test is permitted to break the seal” on the test booklet.

This procedure has been in place for the past few years to ensure teachers do not have any opportunity to view or tamper with the test prior to its administration.

It is a good rule because it protects the teacher of being wrongly accused of reading or copying questions, providing answers, or assisting students in any way. Since each test has a separate seal, this procedure also prevents students from looking ahead to the next test if they finish the first one early.

Teachers are also prohibited from viewing any of the questions on the test–before, during, or after. Ostensibly, this rule is in place because teachers cannot be trusted.

Regardless, this warning is so important it is included on the very first page of the Test Administrator’s Manual (TAM).

No person is to read or view the contents of a test book or an online test at
any time, except the student taking the test at the time of testing.

So. . .what happens when schools receive third grade paper tests that DO NOT have the required security seals. Regrettably, this is not a hypothetical, it happened. The test booklets for this year’s third grade test were sent to every district in Oklahoma a few weeks ago, WITHOUT seals.

Upon recognizing this problem, the OSDE sent the following email to District Test Coordinators:

To:                   District Test Coordinators

From:               OCCT Program Management Team

Date:                March 25, 2015

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.

Okay, this seems simple, right? For whatever reason, Measured Progress failed to place security labels on the third grade tests. Maybe our SDE failed to include this guidance in the contract. But that seems strange because Measured Progress prepared the test booklets last year and the seals were there.

It could just be that the machine that applies the seals on the booklets in the Measured Progress print shop was on the blink the day they printed our state tests.

The bottom line is there are no seals and the SDE’s solution is for teachers to just omit that direction from the instructions we read to our third grade students.

However, by following THAT SDE guidance, our teachers will be violating previous SDE guidance as clearly written in the TAMs:

Read the directions to the students exactly as they are written, using a natural tone and manner. If you make a mistake while reading, stop and say, “No, that is wrong. Listen again.”Then read the directions again. Never deviate from the directions as written. Deviating in any way from the printed directions is a testing violation.

I know what you’re thinking. The state department made the original rule so they obviously have the authority to change it if they want. I agree, yet the original guidance does say “never”. And never means never, right? Semantics. This memo clearly amends the previous directive. So, we won’t talk about the seals with our students.

This is not the point.

We must remember that the third grade reading test is the highest stakes test we have, one that has the potential of changing an 8-year-old’s life in a dramatic, unalterable way.

It is also high stakes for third grade teachers. In every school in Oklahoma, these teachers are on the hot seat. Administrators, parents, and fellow teachers will make judgments about their effectiveness based on how their students do on this test. In short, there is a lot on the line!

So, will school districts now have to modify their distribution procedures to ensure that these tests are NEVER in the teacher’s possession without a second teacher or proctor also in the room?

Without seals, it might be very tempting for a teacher to take a peek inside, if for no other reason than to see if they adequately taught the material their students will be responsible for answering. Wouldn’t you be a little curious?

To go to extremes, does the potential exist for a teacher to possibly snap a few pictures with their smart phone to use next year in better preparing their students for the test?

If I was a third grade teacherI 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?

If we are honest, this is how the Atlanta investigation was initiated, after student test scores increased dramatically from one year to another. Remember that hundreds of educators were included in the investigation, with most being absolved of any responsibility. At least a dozen were not so lucky. They cheated and are likely going to prison.

This is likely not a huge issue. We can make it work. But, wouldn’t it be nice just one year to have everything go like it supposed to? Are we not spending millions of dollars to ensure a quality product from our testing vendor?

Printing tens of thousands of test booklets without required security seals shows a lack of attention to detail and poor quality control.

And this makes many of us worry about the quality of what is inside the booklets, along with its potential impact on thousands of Oklahoma’s children and teachers. In other words, can we TRUST Measured Progress?

I will sum up my frustration with this comment from Edmond parent and #oklaed advocate, Angela Little:

If we truly trust educators then we don’t need this test.
If we don’t trust them, then we can’t use this test.


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