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Federal Report Faults Michigan Department on Cheating Oversight

A report by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Education has faulted the Michigan education department for not conducting proper oversight over testing irregularities that point to possible cheating on exams.

The report, titled "Michigan Department of Education's System of Internal Control Over Statewide Test Results," was sent to Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan on May 20. It examined testing results and procedures at five schools in three districts, including two schools in Detroit, from the academic years 2007-08 to 2009-10.

The introduction states that the investigation is part of a "nationwide audit" involving the federal Education Department and five state educational agencies to determine how they deal with testing irregularities. The report states that the results of this audit involving five state departments will be presented to the Education Department, but doesn't indicate when that's expected to happen or what the results might show.

In brief, the IG's report states that the Michigan department should improve its oversight over testing irregularities through three general methods:

• Placing schools that it identifies as at high-risk for possible violations of test administration procedures on the next year's targeted monitoring list.

• Using use test results and erasure analyses to identify schools with possible test administration irregularities.

• Ensuring the timeliness of notifications about missing nonscorable test materials that contractors provide to schools, and ensuring that its contracts are amended to include specific requirements for reporting missing nonscorable test materials.

In addition, the report singles out the Detroit system, saying it should do more to "adequately secure testing materials" and make sure that students are tested in continuous sessions. The Michigan department and Detroit public schools have said they agree with the findings and outlined the steps they have taken to correct the problems identified by the IG's office.

Let's take the three main findings one by one. Michigan has a process for identifying and dealing with schools that appear to have testing irregularities, and the consequences can include test scores being invalidated by the state. The state identified eight local education agencies (LEAs) where intentional violations of testing standards took place, the finding with the most severe potential consequences. However, the report says the state's cheating monitoring system didn't say whether the state decided future monitoring of those districts was needed, and that in 2011, "Michigan DOE did not conduct onsite monitoring visits at any of the eight LEAs." And the IG's report also says the state did not share results of onsite monitoring visits with the three school systems in the report.

The report also says Michigan officials didn't effectively use the forensic analyses of test results provided by contractors to actually identify testing irregularities and possible cheating, and also didn't follow up with schools about any issues the analyses uncovered.

And lastly, the report said Michigan should conduct investigations at schools where testing materials have gone missing and have not been returned to testing contractors. The report singles out an incident at a Detroit school where missing testing material was not reported to the school system by the contractor until seven months after the test was administered. The state should be tougher on contractors when it comes to reporting these incidents.

As for Detroit public schools specifically, the school system did not retain records of onsite monitoring visits for tests, the IG's report stated, and one school allowed students who had not completed a test by lunch time to eat in the school's lunchroom before finishing the exam (students are required to complete the exams in one continuous session). It also reported that an area holding testing materials was not properly secured, even after an attempt by the school to correct the problem when they were first told about it by the report's authors.

In response, the Michigan department stated it agreed with the findings from the IG and said they had already taken corrective actions. Mr. Flanagan wrote, for example, that the department has "implemented an electronic means of tracking all irregularities and we have more than doubled the number of monitoring visits."

On May 17, my colleague Catherine Gewertz wrote at the Curriculum Matters blog about a U.S. Government Accountability Office report showing that 40 states have investigated possible cheating on tests in the last two years, and that 32 states ended up invalidating test scores as a result of those investigations. Cheating has become a high-profile issue this year, touching on everything from Atlanta Public Schools to the career of Michelle Rhee as D.C. Public Schools chancellor.

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