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‘Test irregularities’ at 33 Illinois schools

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Updated: November 27, 2011 1:00PM

The Illinois State Board of Education is looking into whether disciplinary action should be taken because of “test irregularities” found in 33 Illinois public schools, including nine in Chicago.

Board spokeswoman Mary Fergus wouldn’t say if the irregularities, going back as far as 2005, involved cheating. But she did say that the state board did not count scores from the affected tests towards schools’ overall performance.

Fergus said all the incidents being investigated were self-reported. These involved “Schools and districts that called us and said something happened, some irregularity during testing season, what do we need to do about it?” Fergus said.

All the irregularities occurred on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), given each year to elementary and middle school students statewide.

In each of the 33 cases, the state board told schools the affected tests would not count. Now it is looking more closely to see if cheating occurred — and if discipline is warranted.

The review now underway will include both recent cases and those before 2009. The board got the funding in 2009 to investigate alleged misconduct, but has yet to yank any educator certificates as as result.

Besides looking at irregularities reported by schools, the state board is for the first time also performing a computer analysis of test results to look for patterns indicating cheating.

The analysis will focus on ISAT tests and will look for unusual increases in scores. It will also try to spot schools or classrooms in which an unusual number of difficult questions were answered correctly and look for atypical patterns in erasure marks, another possible cheating indicator.

Of the self-reported cases, nine occurred in Chicago schools. The schools were Alcott in 2006, Bright in 2011, Cook in 2010, Daley in 2010, Lathrop in 2005, Little Village Academy in 2008, National Teachers Academy in 2007, Piccolo in 2007, and Robinson in 2010, according to documents released by the state board.

Chicago Public Schools officials were not able to track down information about the cases in time to respond.

The principal of one of the Chicago schools, Bright Elementary, where ISAT reading and math scores of 28 fourth grade students were suppressed earlier this year by ISBE, declined to comment.

In the Chicago area, elementary and middle school districts in Skokie, Hanover Park, Forest Park, Aurora, Matteson, Geneva, Burr Ridge, Naperville, and Wauconda all had test scores suppressed as a result of irregularities.

In Naperville District 203, in 2006 a teacher used a math test copied from a previous year as a sample test for 7th grade students, not realizing that the same test would be repeated, according to a district spokeswoman. Scores for about 120 students at Jefferson Junior High School wound up being suppressed.

“It was an honest mistake,” said district spokeswoman Susan Rice. “But anytime that we discover an inconsistency or deviation from procedure we have notified the state.”

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