“Cheating: To take an examination or test in a dishonest way, as by improper access to answers.” -- Dictionary.com
by Andrew Walden
Cheating on tests is paying off big for the Hawaii Department of Education. The DoE has admitted--touted even--its effort to organize a cadre of part-time teachers to provide test answers to students statewide.
The scheme is producing elevated test scores. According to an August 27 article by the Star-Advertiser’s in-house DoE hack, Mary Vorsino:
Public schools saw progress this year in their efforts to boost achievement among the lowest-performing students. At the same time, the percentage of students exceeding in math proficiency declined, school-by-school annual test scores released this week show.
Statewide, the percentage of students who were "well below" in reading dropped significantly, to 11 percent in the school year that ended in May from 18 percent in 2010. Students "well below" in math declined by 9 percentage points, to 18 percent this year.
There was also a big increase in the percentage of students exceeding standards in reading, with 29 percent of students testing above grade-level benchmarks, compared with 23 percent last year. In math, however, the group of top scorers got much smaller. About 14 percent of students exceeded standards, compared with 23 percent last year….
Just 4 percent of third-graders at the school tested "well below" in reading this year, down from 22 percent last year. The school also saw large declines in the percentage of students "well below" in fourth- and fifth-grade reading, and for all grades in math. The percentage of fifth-graders at Kalihi-uka who tested "well below" in math dropped a staggering 26 percentage points, from 41 percent this year to 15 percent in 2010.
The DoE has a long history of changing tests to create the illusion of achievement. Prior to the latest results being reported, Honolulu Magazine May, 2011 explained:
Looking at the Hawaii DOE’s own stats, you might come away with a more optimistic view of the situation. According to the Hawaii State Assessments, our state’s primary indicator for academic performance, 49 percent of Hawaii’s students tested proficient or better in math in 2010, and 67 percent were proficient or better in reading—a jump of almost 30 percentage points from 2004.
The DOE is happy to take credit for this improvement—its Race to the Top application last year touted a doubling in the percentage of students proficient in math between 2003 and 2009. Unfortunately, that’s not a real-world performance gain—the DOE modified the format and content of its HSA test in 2007, which led to an immediate bump in test scores.
Looking at standardized NAEP scores, things are a lot less rosy. In 2009, the most recent year for which NAEP has results, a mere 25 percent of Hawaii’s eighth graders were considered proficient or above in math. In reading, it was 22 percent. To be fair, Hawaii has made modest improvements in its NAEP scores over the past decade, but we’re still at the back of the class, nationally.
This time, the DoE “achievements” come from a publicly organized system of cheating on the HSA tests. On a DoE website titled “Hawaii DoE Reform: Transforming Hawaii’s Public Schools”, they explain how they changed to a cheating system with the introduction of on-line testing this year:
One of the biggest changes that faced public schools this year was in the administering of the Hawaii State Assessment. These results serve as a primary measure in determining whether a school has met “Adequate Yearly Progress” under No Child Left Behind. Previously, all schools were limited to a three-week window in the third quarter of the school year, giving students only one chance to demonstrate academic proficiency on the high-stakes assessment.
After field-testing a computer-adaptive version of the HSA last spring, the DOE this year made a complete shift from pencil and paper tests to an entirely online adaptive version. All students are required to take the test at least once, but the testing window has been expanded from October 18, 2010, to May 20, 2011, to allow schools the option of administering the test up to three times to any or all students.
The computer-adaptive tests are scored almost instantly, providing schools with the results to aid in decision-making on both instructional strategies as well as how many times to test their students. Changes in the testing procedure are a reflection of feedback from schools, which requested expanded testing windows, more flexibility and quicker turnaround of results. Now schools have more ownership of the testing process, with readily available data to help them decide how they might best improve student achievement to meet this year’s higher benchmarks in reading and math.
The goal is to provide schools with the necessary information and flexibility to provide the rigorous standards-based instruction needed to help students reach higher academic benchmarks. “We’re trying to improve student achievement through awareness of the scores,” says Kent Hinton, DOE Test Development and Administrator Specialist.
In other words, they immediately go over the questions each student got wrong and then prepare them to re-take the test. If it doesn’t work the second time, they can do it a third time. This is not just teaching to the test, it is cheating.
The new HSA-based AYP results are the opposite of what happened just a month ago after Special Education teachers were prevented from filling in the Hawaii State Alternate Assessment for their students. The Star-Advertiser July 25 feigned ignorance, but the truth was plain between the lines:
Just 4 percent of students who took the Hawaii State Alternate Assessment tested proficient in math, down from 62 percent in 2010. Eight percent were proficient in reading, down from 70 percent….
… changed with the new test: Students were no longer allowed to be prompted while testing, and the assessments were scored by external scorers, not teachers….
"A lot of the tests in the past were these checklists that the teachers would say, ‘Yes, I saw the child do that.' It was just the teacher's impression of what the child was able to do."
The new test, which cost the state about $2 million, came about as a result of a compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, which required that Hawaii test students on grade-level-appropriate benchmarks.
Vorsino August 27 describes the latest online test cheating in her article—without acknowledging it as such:
Principals say the big drop in the percentage of kids performing at the lowest levels appears to be early proof that new interventions for struggling students are paying off.
"We're developing an almost individualized plan for each child," said Kalihi-uka Elementary Principal Laura Ahn. "Our teachers really targeted certain kids, targeted the ‘well below' and the ‘almost reaching' to get them to improve." …
At Fern Elementary, struggling students got extra assistance from part-time teachers placed in each classroom … "Whatever they don't get, we tutor them," she said….
"Helping the ‘well below' kids, it's really been a huge effort," said Al Carganilla, Farrington's principal, adding that this year the school is also kicking off a "learning team" model, where teachers share information about what's working or not working in their classrooms, based on real-time data….
The plans are “individualized” because they are working from the questions the students got wrong. The data is “real time” because of the DoE’s new on-line testing system.
Of course targeting “the ‘well below' and the ‘almost reaching'” means that some other students aren’t getting help. Vorsino writes:
…the overall percentage of students in the "exceeds" category dropped this year…. Tenth-graders saw the greatest decline in students exceeding in reading, from 33 percent to 13 percent. In, math 8 percent of 10th-graders topped standards, from 14 percent in 2010.
To meet NCLB and collect those undeserved Race To The Top funds, the DoE doesn’t have to concern itself with how many students “exceed” standards. The DoE’s only goal was to artificially inflate the number of students meeting standards and reduce the number at the lowest levels of failure.
Striking Parallels From 2005: 'Cheating' probe halts Wai'anae school tests