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Long IslandEducation

State creates unit to combat test fraud

A file photo of school exams in progress.

A file photo of school exams in progress. Photo Credit: AP, 2005

A state investigator reported Thursday that the number of test-fraud complaints surfacing across New York each year is far higher than Albany has acknowledged in the past, and that number will probably rise even higher as education officials intensify their scrutiny.

At an Albany news conference, state Education Department officials announced the creation of a new Test Security Unit within their agency, with seven investigators and lawyers assigned to full-time probes of major test fraud and related tasks. Until now, the department had left most investigations to local school districts and regional BOCES.

Henry M. "Hank" Greenberg, a special investigator for the department, estimated the statewide number of test-tampering complaints against adult school employees at an average 92 annually between 2007 and 2011. Greenberg added that about half of those complaints were eventually verified, and that resulting punishments varied widely from one district to another -- with not all guilty staffers losing their jobs.

The state administers about 5.5 million tests annually.

In 2007, the education department had reported that only 37 fraud complaints were collected the previous year, including six Long Island cases. Thursday, Jonathan Burman, a department spokesman, attributed the numerical discrepancies to what he termed the agency's "incomplete and unreliable" data -- collected, until now, on old-fashioned paper forms.

To beef up the department's scrutiny, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. Thursday urged improvements based on Greenberg's review. The plan will be submitted Monday to the state's Board of Regents, and has the backing of the board's chairman, Merryl H. Tisch of Manhattan.

"The integrity of state assessments cannot be compromised," Tisch said Thursday in a statement. "Students deserve tests that accurately measure what they're learning."

Concerns over test fraud are rising as stakes grow higher. In June, thousands of teachers and principals statewide will get new state job ratings, based partly on students' test scores.

Recommended changes include:

Requiring all school employees to report to the state any suspected instances of test tampering and other security breaches. Currently, only principals are required to make such reports.

Establishing uniform penalties for school personnel who engage in test tampering and related violations.

Building an electronic system to track investigations of testing violations and record the conclusions.

Retaining test documents for up to five years, rather than for one year, which is the current practice.

Issuing annual statewide reports on verified cases of testing violations in the state's school districts.

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