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Auditors Fault Education Department, States for Test-Security Problems

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general raised red flags about testing security in Michigan, faulting the state and federal officials for not doing more to protect the integrity of Michigan's K-12 testing system.

And now, the Office of the Inspector General has put out a more comprehensive testing report, which found similar problems across four other states it selected as part of a nationwide audit: Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas. (H/t to Politico, which reported this in its morning newsletter.)

Auditors found weaknesses in test security, monitoring, and risk analysis. What's more, they found that state testing systems did not always require corrective action if indicators of inaccurate, unreliable, or incomplete statewide test results were found. Auditors also flagged federal officials for not doing more to improve test integrity.

To fix these problems, auditors want states to start incorporating forensic analyses into their risk assessments to more effectively identify districts and schools with possible test-administration irregularities. They also want the states to improve the monitoring of test administration, the follow-up of irregularities to prevent recurrence, and test-security environments.

And, the auditors wanted the Education Department to be more involved. For example, they want testing security to be apart of the federal peer-review process for state assessment systems. Problem is, that peer review has been put on hold by the feds. And, auditors want the feds to require states to provide an explanation for possibly errant test results when they are flagged by the federal EdFACTS performance database. (For example, the database flags test results that show a 15 percentage point swing from one year to the next.)

Importantly, the audit says this:

The system flagged without comment the State of Georgia statewide test data for school years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 for this reason. However, the department did not require an explanation. Had the department required an explanation for why the State of Georgia's test data fell outside the anticipated ranges, indicators of potential cheating on statewide tests in the State of Georgia might have been detected sooner.

In a department response, acting Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton said his agency is working on improving its protocols, including monitoring the EdFACTS flags. "The department is strongly committed to helping ensure that there are reliable and valid measures of student performance. The dynamic landscape of statewide testing ... will require more innovative and frequently updated ways to maintain strong internal control systems."

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