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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 18, 2011

Exam scores in error
GCSD admits Regents mistakes, fifteen who failed will get passing grades

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — About one out of every six Regents exams graded by Guilderland teachers in June was in error.

“Sadly, we discovered 504 discrepancies on the 3,163 Regents exams scored in June,” Superintendent Marie Wiles told the school board Tuesday night.

The district, she said, has decided to change the scores to the correct numbers — about half are higher than first reported and about half are lower — except for the 15 scores that would mean failure. Those students have missed the opportunity to attend summer school to prepare for the Regents exams that are being given this week.

“We held these students harmless,” said Wiles.

Students statewide must pass designated Regents exams in order to graduate from high school. Wiles said that the Guilderland scoring errors did not affect the graduation of any student this June.

Revised report cards will be issued with adjusted final grades, Wiles said. Letters are being sent to parents and staff members, and a press conference was held yesterday afternoon.

Wiles said she conferred with David Abrams, with the Office for Standards, Assessment and Reporting at the State Education Department, looking for guidance, and was told school districts have the discretion to decide what to do when mistakes are made grading Regents exams. The district could have decided to let the incorrect scores stand without ever informing students or parents, she said. Abrams’s office declined comment and referred The Enterprise to the department’s press office.

There, spokesman Jonathan Burman did not answer questions on why it was left up to Guilderland’s discretion to correct the mistakes or to tell the students about the errors. He did not comment on if it is standard policy when mistakes are made grading the statewide exams or if such a policy devalues the exams or hampers student learning.

“There is no need for an investigation in Guilderland and we will not be conducting one,” Burman e-mailed in response to questions asking about the policy. “There was absolutely no malfeasance at issue here. We have spoken with the district and they are moving ahead in accordance with state scoring policy.”

Burman did say, when asked how many districts statewide made mistakes scoring June Regents exams, that no mistakes have been found at other districts in the area

The discovery at Guilderland was made last week. Asked why it took so long to learn of the discrepancies for exams taken in June, Wiles told The Enterprise that the scores were sent to the Northeast Regional Information Center at the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services the day before the July 8 deadline. They were scanned and sent back in file form in July, she said.

“Because the process was new, we weren’t in tune with reviewing them,” Wiles said. When the score reports from the BOCES center were compared to the scores arrived at by Guilderland teachers, 504 discrepancies were found.

After making the discovery on Aug. 8, the district last week reviewed each student answer sheet for all of the June exams — Integrated Algebra, Geometry, Living Environment, Earth Science, Chemistry, Global History and Geography, English Language Arts, and United States History and Government.

Wiles described all the mistakes as “human errors,” where scores were tallied incorrectly or where the conversion grid was improperly used. For example, in one case, a student got 29 out of 50 answers wrong and the teacher put down 29 instead of 21 for correct answers. “It flipped,” said Wiles.

Board President Colleen O’Connell said at Tuesday’s meeting that 80 percent of the discrepancies involved one or two points.

No particular teacher or subject was more error prone than another. “It was about as random as random can be,” said Wiles. The only pattern she could discern, she said, was that the exams scored earliest in the week had the most errors.

Who’s responsible?

Board member Emilio Genzano wanted to know who was responsible for the errors. Wiles replied that the teachers who taught the courses scored their own students’ tests. With such a volume of tests to be scored in a short time, she said, “It’s all hands on deck.” The teachers work under the guidance of instructional administrators, who work under principals, who work “under us,” she said. “Who is responsible? All of us,” said Wiles.

Genzano also wanted to know if students who had failed but were given a passing grade would be getting additional help to be sure they had learned what they were supposed to.

“We have not had the conversation about…how to make sure they continue to be successful…That’s a conversation that’s next in line,” said Wiles.

Board member Rose Levy asked if there were any students who had attended summer school based on an incorrect failing score when they had actually passed the exam. Thomas Lutsic, the new high school principal, said just one student was in summer school who had passed the Regents exam but had been told she failed, although her grades were not high enough to have passed the course so she would have been in summer school anyway. “But for her, she does not have to take the exam tomorrow,” he said. “She was quite happy.”

Board member Denise Eisele thanked Wiles for the decision to hold harmless the students who thought they had passed the Regents exam when actually they had failed. “Having children that teeter on the edge, to find out they passed is such a huge relief,” she said. To find out otherwise would be “such an emotional blow” to both the parents and the student, said Eisele.

Board member Judy Slack agreed that it was good not to punish students with failure.

The district, O’Connell said, “hasn’t decided on whether to tell those kids” that they actually failed, she said, advising, “We have to tread carefully.”

Several board members wanted to know how widespread the problem was; Wiles said she had no way of knowing.

“One option was to do nothing,” said O’Connell. If other districts with discrepancies decide “not to go public,” she said, “we’d never know.”

The process

June was the first time that districts across the state were required to have their answer sheets electronically scanned at a Regional Information Center, or RIC. The RIC run by the Capital Regents BOCES offered three options:

— Use Just In Time Scanning, which would involve driving answer sheets from Guilderland to the RIC as soon as they are completed to be scanned there. “We had concerns about a smooth transition between Starbase,” said Wiles, referring to the data system used at Guilderland, “and the RIC software”;

— Purchase the scanner and software to scan the answer sheets locally, then transmit the data file to the RIC. This method was deemed too costly, Wiles said, as it would cost $5,000 or $6,000 for the scanner and another $5,000 or $6,000 for the software;

— Hand score the exams at Guilderland, then send the completed answer sheets by July 8 to the RIC for scanning. This is the method Guilderland used.

“The beauty of hindsight is it’s always 20-20,” Wiles told The Enterprise after Tuesday’s meeting. “You make a decision based on the information you have.”

As it turned out, the Just In Time Scanning worked well, without the anticipated problems, so Guilderland will be using that system in the future, starting with this week’s Regents exams.

The hand-scoring turned out to be difficult, Wiles said, because the teachers had an answer sheet, meant to be read by a machine, on which they couldn’t write.

Asked if there could have been years of scoring errors that had previously gone undetected, Wiles said, “There is always the possibility of human error. I’m hypothesizing it was magnified this year with the new procedures.”

The district pays $2.10 per test for Just In Time Scanning or for having the RIC scan the hand scores, said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton. Board member Richard Weisz pointed out that, just for last June’s exams, this cost Guilderland over $6,000.  The cost is $1.60 per test if the district does its own scanning and transmits the file to the RIC, said Singleton.

Wiles concluded she was thankful the district had the option of using Just In Time Scanning for this week’s Regents exams, and she was grateful that the State Education Department let Guilderland “take a course of action that fits our needs.”

“In an era of high-stakes testing,” Wiles said in the district’s press release, “the Regents have a significant impact on the caliber of high school degree a student earns as well as a potential impact on the college application process. It would have been irresponsible for us to knowingly let these errors stand. It was clear we had to make this right…The only way to maintain integrity is to acknowledge when there is a problem, and to commit to addressing the issue to the best of our ability.”

“We’re making it as right as we can as fast as we can,” said board member Judy Slack.

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