36 confirmed cases of LI schools cheating on state tests over past decade
Three dozen complaints of cheating on state tests in Long Island schools have been substantiated by investigators during the past decade, according to records obtained by Newsday.
Complaints investigated by the state Department of Education ranged from teachers improperly coaching students to schools failing to keep state exams under lock and key.
The state investigated 60 complaints between the 2002-03 and 2011-12 school years and substantiated 36, according to the records, obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Penalties imposed against local districts included removing teachers, requiring state monitoring and suspending testing privileges, the records show.
Among the recent verified complaints:
A state monitor's visit to Roosevelt High School in the 2010-11 school year resulted in a report of exam materials not kept in a secure lockbox.
A teacher at Howard T. Herber Middle School in Malverne gave an impromptu lesson to students after seeing a math exam in 2009-10.
An elementary school teacher at Saddle Rock School in Great Neck broke the rules by assisting a student during an English Language Arts exam in 2009-10.
Long Island has more than 446,400 public students enrolled in 2012-13, according to Western Suffolk BOCES.
In the six Hudson Valley counties north of New York City, there were 40 cheating investigations during this period, all but nine of them verified. Those counties have a combined public school population of more than 338,000 students, according to 2009 figures from the state.
New York City, with a public school population of 1.1 million, had 135 complaints, 94 of them verified.
Statewide, the database includes details on 432 closed investigations into allegations of cheating on tests at elementary and secondary schools in the past decade, including 322 verified.
State education officials and the union representing teachers stressed that instances of cheating remain rare, and measures requiring tighter test security have been adopted -- including a new Test Security and Educator Integrity website, announced in February, that has several components dealing with the receipt and handling of test-fraud allegations.
Relatively few overall
"The overwhelming majority of educators in New York State give tests honestly and fairly," state Education Commissioner John B. King said. "We're going to make sure the actions of a few do not taint the reputation of the many."
"Teachers are professionals who hold themselves up to the highest ethical standards," said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the largest union representing teachers and other school employees. "The fact that the instances of impropriety are so low speaks to the tremendous integrity that teachers have. But having said that, everyone wishes the number was zero."
But Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, called the verified complaints on Long Island the "tip of the iceberg." Within the past four academic years, he said, cheating cases have been confirmed in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
"There is a widespread pattern of test manipulation," he said.
It's hard to say how New York compares with the rest of the nation, as many states do not keep such data, Schaeffer said. Rather, this information is collected at the district level, he said.
"The states that have done systematic looks at cheating . . . that is the right order of magnitude -- about 40 to 50 complaints per year," he said. "The question is, what percentage of questionable behavior are actually reported and how many are thoroughly investigated?"
The New York State Department of Education's Office of Assessment Policy, Development and Administration maintains a database of allegations of improprieties related to state assessments.
The database, divided into secondary and elementary school categories, includes the district's name, the allegation, and whether investigators substantiated the complaint. Some complaints are anonymous, some by staff members and some by parents. Schools are named, but teachers' identities have been redacted.
State education officials declined to reveal open investigations, but confirmed last month that 18 teachers in two elementary schools in the Glen Cove district remain under investigation for allegedly coaching students on last year's state tests. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice also has sought information about alleged grade changes on 2012 Regents exams by administrators at Glen Cove High School, district sources told Newsday in April.
Testing integrity improved
Educators statewide have improved testing integrity. The new Test Security and Educator Integrity website created an electronic "tip line."
Penalties can range from administrative sanctions to criminal prosecution.
In the Roosevelt High School case, investigators said the district had been informed of the "security breach" and was monitored.
District officials said the school's standardized testing program is "well-organized and closely monitored." They added that they have enhanced efforts to ensure the integrity of standardized tests.
In the complaint involving Howard T. Herber Middle School, a teacher was barred from administering state exams in the Malverne school district after giving an impromptu math lesson to students after seeing the exam, records show.
Malverne Superintendent James Hunderfund said the district reported the incident immediately to state officials.
"This was an isolated incident with a teacher who is no longer proctoring examinations," Hunderfund said.
A Great Neck elementary school teacher was "released" from employment, according to the records, after a parent alleged her son was given assistance by a teacher during the English exam in the 2009-10 school year.
"The teacher's conduct was questionable," according to state documents.
Great Neck Superintendent Thomas Dolan did not return calls for comment.
In another case, Harborfields High School in Greenlawn was investigated and a complaint verified in the 2007-08 school year over scoring irregularities on the English Regents exam.
"School and BOCES investigation found scorers did not conform to scoring guidelines," the complaint states.
Harborfields Superintendent Diana Todaro said high school administrators noticed a scoring inconsistency with the 2007-08 English Language Arts Regents examination and reported it.
"Since the scoring incident in 2007-2008, the district's scoring practices have been reviewed and steps have been implemented to ensure . . . the integrity of scoring and test administration processes," Todaro said in a statement. "Annually, our staff participates in training conducted by BOCES to enhance their knowledge and understanding of testing and scoring processes."
Some officials in other districts said their violations may have been clerical in nature.
Comsewogue Superintendent Joseph Rella was principal of the high school in 2003-04 when the district was investigated. The complaint concerned a special education student from another district who had failed the Regents Competency Test when Rella was principal of the summer school there.
Rella sent a copy of the completed test to the student's principal.
"I faxed him a copy. The test was restricted -- which meant that we had to return all question booklets to the state. By giving the principal a copy of the student's completed test, I violated the 'Return of restricted RCTs,' " Rella said, referring to state guidelines on handling of RCT exams.
Several educators noted that cheating allegations remain rare. In Plainedge, Superintendent Edward A. Salina Jr. said the complaint from the 2007-08 school year -- when exams were opened and viewed by teachers -- was an "isolated incident."
The teachers also did not divulge any information about the questions, he said. Still, after the incident, the district's scoring privileges were rescinded.
After that, the district purchased a secure storage cabinet for all middle school exams. The matter was addressed appropriately and closed, Salina said.
If cheating is established, test scores can be invalidated -- resulting in related consequences for districts, state officials said. In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district in the 2005-06 school year, seven English papers were invalidated after a cheating complaint was verified at Pasadena Elementary School.
Plainview-Old Bethpage district officials declined to discuss the particulars of that case. But they said in an email that they have always operated "in full compliance with New York State standardized testing procedures."
VERIFIED LONG ISLAND TESTING COMPLAINTS
Roosevelt High School, 2010-11: Exams not kept in secure lockbox.
North Babylon High School, 2009-10: At-home student did not complete Day 1 essays on Regents English, claiming proctor erred; refused to take Day 2 essays. Administrative error.
Sewanhaka High School, 2009-10: Math. Teacher gave improper assistance to a student during exam.
East Rockaway Jr. Senior High School, 2007-08: School was short of exams; teacher made copies. School monitored.
Harborfields High School, 2007-08: Scoring irregularities on Regents English. BOCES scored instead.
Lawrence High School, 2005-06: Regents French, part one. Teacher removed from testing.
Jericho Senior High School, 2004-05: Regents global. Two papers invalidated.
Jericho Senior High School, 2004-05: Regents math. Three papers invalidated.
William Paca Middle School, 2004-05: Regents Italian. Teacher removed from state involvement until June 2007.
Comsewogue High School, 2003-04: Assisted Regents Competency Test (RCT)
Centereach High School, 2003-04: Regents ESCI (Earth Science). Teacher judgment training.
Shoreham Wading River High School, 2003-04: RCT USHG (U.S. History and Government). Training regimen.
Baldwin Senior High School, 2002-03: Regents ESCI. Lost paper. Score expunction.
Riverside School, Rockville Centre, 2009-10: Math. Principal reviewed test with faculty an hour before.
Island Trees Memorial Middle School, 2009-10: Math. IEP (Individualized Education Program) accommodation violation.
Howard T. Herber Middle School, Malverne, 2009-10: Math. Before students took the exam, teacher gave an impromptu lesson after seeing exam. Teacher barred from participating in state exams until at least January 2012.
Saddle Rock School, Great Neck, 2009-10: ELA (English Language Arts). Parent alleged student was given assistance by teacher. Teacher "released" from employment.
Plainview Old Bethpage Middle School, 2008-09: Two complaints. ELA; administrative error.
William Rogers Middle School, 2008-09: Math. Teacher gave assistance to students. Procedural letter sent.
St. Ignatius Loyola School, 2007-08: Math. Teacher assisted student during exam; administrative error.
Plainedge Middle School, 2007-08: SOC. Exams opened and viewed before test. Scoring privileges rescinded until 2009.
Daniel Street School, Lindenhurst, 2007-08: Math. Teacher provided unauthorized assistance to students.
Riverhead Charter School, 2007-08: Unspecified exam. Test protocol disregarded.
School 5, Oceanside, 2006-07: ELA. Student's mother, a teacher, gave her the test.
Birch School, Merrick, 2006-07: SOC. Teacher assisted student during exam.
Patchogue Medford School District, 2006-07: ELA. Teacher suspended 30 days without pay.
Uniondale Union Free School District, 2005-06: Math. Invalidated all scores for all 10 elementary and middle schools in wide-ranging tampering case. District removed from academic probation in 2009.
Pasadena Elementary School, 2006-07: ELA. Seven papers invalidated.
William Paca Middle School, 2005-06: ELA. Teacher removed from classroom.
Southeast Elementary School, Brentwood, 2005-06: Math. Teacher fined one week's pay. Teaching assistant suspended three weeks.
Maplewood Intermediate School, 2004-05: Math. Warning letter given to teacher.
Manor Oaks William Bowie School, North New Hyde Park, 2002-03: Science Performance Test (SCI PT).
Park Avenue School, Amityville, 2002-03: SCI PT.
William Paca Middle School, 2002-03: One teacher reassigned; another fined.
Hampton Bays, 2002-03: SCI PT.
SOURCE: New York State Department of Education's Office of Assessment Policy, Development and Administration