CPS agrees to overhaul standardized test practice after OIG finds ‘unusual patterns’

CPS agrees to overhaul standardized test practice after OIG finds ‘unusual patterns’

Nicholas Schuler, inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools. His last day on the job is Feb. 29. | Sun-Times file photo

CPS announced Friday major changes to the rules and security around its highest stakes test — the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA test.

After the Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general pointed out “unusual patterns” and “irregularities” in some standardized test results, including unusually long test times and high numbers of pauses in the computerized tests, CPS officials have agreed to overhaul testing procedures.

In a news release issued Friday afternoon — traditionally when bad news gets dumped — CPS announced major changes to the rules and security around its highest stakes test — the Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA test used to evaluate teachers and principals, screen for selective enrollment admissions and determine each school’s rating.

Contrary to normal practice, schools officials themselves released the findings of the outgoing inspector general, who typically publicizes his own reports.

Also unusual is how CPS has agreed to accept all of the Office of the Inspector General’s eight recommendations to tighten up the integrity and security around how the untimed computerized test is issued to all second through eighth grade students. A testing security expert is to be hired, for example, and will keep track of who proctors each student’s test to ensure it isn’t a teacher whose evaluation depends on the results.

The findings come during Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s last days as the school system’s watchdog. Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked Schuler to resign in the wake of accusations that he fostered a toxic workplace, allegations CPS hired a law firm to investigate.

In a statement, Schuler said Friday’s news release “took us by surprise, as CPS leadership had previously asked us to release our findings via a joint presentation with them at next Wednesday’s Board meeting.

“We also are puzzled as to why CPS did not redact the names of schools from our report. It was always our position and understanding that schools would not be identified publicly because no findings of impropriety were made about individual schools,” said Schuler, whose last day is Feb. 29.

“We urge the public not to jump to conclusions about individual schools based on our report.”

In the 68-page report handed to Chicago Board of Education members on Sept. 26, the OIG’s data analysis unit described “a concerning level of unusually long test durations, high pause counts and other irregularities” during the spring 2018 testing period.

Starting in second grade, CPS students typically take the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress or MAP test in the fall and the spring, and on average they took twice as long as the national average to complete the test, designed to last about an hour. The NWEA MAP test has no time limit, a feature some students told investigators they took advantage of by waiting out difficult questions until new questions would pop up.

In a small cluster of schools, students also had paused the test an abnormally high number of times, which could occur “for benign reasons” or could “be indicative of attempts to game the test to win higher scores or gains,” according to the report.

OIG investigators reported a correlation between the handful of schools that had the longest test-taking times and the highest amount of growth — or improvement made since previous tests — a correlation CPS denies.

“Unusually long durations can occur for many benign reasons, including the high-stakes nature of many CPS tests, but they also can be an indicator of cheating or of attempts to game the test,” Schuler wrote.

However, he added — and CPS emphasized — that his office’s analysis didn’t substantiate wrongdoing nor did were the test’s results invalidated.

At Dixon Elementary School, five of the students with the highest growth between 2017 and 2018 took a combined seven hours to take the test and had paused it between nine and 16 times.

Source : Lauren FitzPatrick Link

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