Ga. schools tighten test rules after cheat audit

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ATLANTA - An audit that showed fifth-grade math exams were altered after the fact at four public schools had districts across Georgia scrambling to tighten rules for administering standardized tests before they start again in the spring.

In the wake of the scathing June report, districts have cracked down on where answer sheets are stored once they are completed by students and now require the sheets be turned in to collection warehouses immediately rather than being kept on campus for several days. Other districts have increased training for principals and teachers who are in charge of testing.

"You don't just sit there and give materials," said Kathy Augustine, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Atlanta Public Schools, which was named in the state audit as one of the districts where results were changed. "You walk hallways. If you see any irregularity, you report it to immediately."

The audit did not specify who corrected wrong answers at schools in Atlanta, DeKalb County, Fulton County and Glynn County. But one DeKalb County administrator has pleaded guilty to tampering with the tests, and about a dozen educators have lost their state teaching licenses for up to two years as a result.

The audit was only the beginning of state officials monitoring test taking in schools.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement, which produced the audit, is doing a statewide analysis of test results for every first- through eighth-grader who took a standardized test in Georgia in spring 2009. The report, set to be released in the spring, could reveal more cheating or other rampant testing problems in the state's schools.

Executive director Kathleen Mathers said it's the first time the state has taken a comprehensive look at testing in the state, particularly focusing on whether schools are responding to performance pressures exerted by federal No Child Left Behind standards by changing test answers or allowing students to cheat. The new audit is part of Georgia's bid to win Race to the Top federal funding, which requires that states evaluate educators partly based on how students perform on tests, she said.

"We want to make sure performance data we have is accurate," she said. "But the bottom line is it's the right thing to do for kids."

Her office is also considering pushing for legislation that would make it a crime to tamper with standardized tests. The state does have a law that prohibits tampering with state documents, but the new law would focus specifically on school tests.

"It's just making very clear up front that we have high expectations that the test will indeed reflect what the students have learned in the course of a year," Mathers said. "To tamper with the test just leads to unreliable results and it cheats children. I would say it sets them up for failure in subsequent grades."


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