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How to survive and thrive in testing season

Standarized testing season is about to begin. And as history teaches us, it is inevitable that some educators around the state (and around the country) will be accused of testing improprieties.

Here is an essential guide from LFT General Counsel Larry Samuel to guard against mistakes, errors and stress during testing season.

Some educators will be accused of providing direct assistance during the test to help students, such as by giving hints or even answers.  Fortunately, the number of those types of accusations has greatly diminished over the years. Suffice to say that under no circumstances should any educators make any comments that could be interpreted as “coaching.” If you are accused of facilitating cheating, you could lose not only your job but also your teaching certificate.

These days, the accusations of wrongdoing and impropriety usually involve the failure to adhere to a specific policy. Sometimes it’s inadvertent. But the problem is that even technical, inadvertent violations can result in (1) voiding the test scores and (2) educators facing disciplinary action or dismissal.

Case in point: the test manual may require you to walk around the classroom, up and down the aisles, to more closely monitor the students. So what should you do if you notice that a student is entering their answer on the wrong section of a bubble sheet? Should you quietly point the error out to that student? Should you stop the whole class and tell everyone to make certain that they are entering their answers on the correct section? Or should you do nothing?

Years ago, the test manuals provided no guidance on that question whatsoever. So one educator might stop and redirect the entire class, whereas another educator might decide to only redirect that student. That exposed a huge problem because not only is the test instrument itself supposed to be standardized, but the test administration procedures are also supposed to be uniform and standardized. Test results can be skewed and rendered meaningless if different educators use different procedures.

Here’s what LFT recommends based on problems that have arisen in previous years:

FIRST, listen closely to what is said at your in-service sessions. Ask “what if” questions. Example: “What should I do if I notice that I am administering the wrong section of the test?” “When am I supposed to notify the test coordinator when I see a problem or if I have a question?”

SECOND, thoroughly familiarize yourself with the procedures.

THIRD, be sure to adhere to those procedures. Closely.

FOURTH, be sure to closely follow the policy governing how to distribute and collect the testing materials.

FIFTH, read to the students only what you are supposed to read to the students. Don’t improvise or add offhand comments. Remember: the procedures are supposed to be standardized and uniform from educator-to-educator, school-to-school, and school district-to-school district.

SIXTH, never leave students unattended during testing, and never leave testing materials, manuals, answer sheets, booklets, etc., unattended.

SEVENTH, don’t “assume” that you should do something in a certain way just because that’s what you did last year, or what you did on another test. Instead, ask questions. Test instructions may vary from year to year and from test-to-test.

EIGHTH, there shouldn’t be ANY cellphones in the classroom. No student should have their cellphone in their possession, and you must relinquish yours as well.  Better yet, leave it in your car. If you have an emergency situation, make pre-arrangements that someone can reach you by calling the school office.

NINTH, immediately report any discrepancies or problems. You are better off self-reporting right away rather than having to explain what you did or didn’t do, and then explain why you didn’t self-report what you did or didn’t do, days or weeks later. Also, it is a violation of Louisiana Department of Education Policies to fail to report any testing irregularities to a testing coordinator.

What happens if there is a problem?

If a problem surfaces either during testing or if a problem is detected afterward, the Louisiana Department of Education will require the school district to conduct an investigation.  You may be called into a meeting or conference, and you may be asked to respond to questions, to submit information, to make a statement, or to attend a hearing. You may face the possibility of disciplinary action and even dismissal if you are accused of wrongdoing, even if it is unintentional.

We recommend: If you are a member of an LFT local, before you answer any questions, submit any information, or attend a hearing or conference, contact your local for assistance. Note: assistance is limited to members.