The school district of Rochester, N.Y., gave teachers and students exact copies of the questions and answers that would appear on a mandatory test, only to have officials deny wrongdoing and watch half the students fail anyway.

The district requires seventh- and eighth-grade students to take year-end exams in four subjects: English, math, science and social studies. While only the English and math tests are used to determine advancement, the exams do comprise 25 percent of the students’ grades in each course.

Prior to taking the social studies test, however, a district-created study guide  available to teachers and students listed multiple-choice questions and answers that were identical and in the same sequence as those that would appear on the social studies exam.

The multiple-choice questions were only a part of the exam, comprising 40 percent of each student’s score, reports the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

It is unknown how many of the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders saw the answers beforehand, said the newspaper, but it was determined that of the 4,329 students who took the exams, 50 percent of the seventh-graders and 44 percent of the eighth-graders failed.

Connie Leech, the district’s supervisor for secondary schools, told the Democrat and Chronicle that the study guides were “probably not in the best judgment” but denied any wrongdoing.

“I’m not concerned that it’s a cheat,” Leech said. “What we were doing is giving kids a better sense of the knowledge that they needed for the test. It’s like giving them an open-book test.”

Ed Roeber, the former director of testing and accountability for the Michigan Department of Education, likened the district’s action to something else. “It’s not a whole lot different from teachers going through the tests and erasing answers and marking correct answers,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle. “I’ve got to wonder if the district is doing anything with the state tests that’s not kosher.”

 

The study guides, produced by Paul Lampe, the district’s director of social studies, were distributed to be used in class, possibly with PowerPoint, as a review and preparation for the exams. Neither students nor teachers, however, could have known that the questions in the study guides were identical to the exams, since the tests were kept sealed until the day they were taken.

Lampe told the Democrat and Chronicle that he purposefully chose to use the identical questions and answers, but that he had intended to scramble their order. Whether human error or computer glitch led to the sequence being preserved, Lampe insisted the guides were nonetheless not created to artificially boost test scores.

“I’m very sensitive to (teaching to the test),” Lampe said. “That was not the intention of this. The common practice is to review for a test with questions in the same format and with the same language students are going to see. I don’t think this goes into the argument of teaching to the test.”

Roger Schaeffer, a spokesperson for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, disagreed, saying the district’s study guides went “beyond teaching to the test.”

“It’s outright weird,” Schaeffer said. “There’s a continuum of test-prep procedures that range from the ethical to the totally unethical, and it’s generally viewed that preparing kids with identical questions is on the unethical side of the spectrum.”

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski called the review method “plain cheating.”

“I can’t imagine anyone making a case for it,” Urbanski told the Democrat and Chronicle. “I wish I could say that I’m surprised. I am not surprised. I strongly suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

 


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