An independent review of testing at two Gainesville schools has cleared both facilities of possible cheating, and administrators couldn’t be happier.
“The report shows that we did everything by the book. I’m just glad that this is finally behind us,” said William Campbell, principal of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.
During a special called meeting, the Gainesville City Board of Education received a report on an audit of last year’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test at Fair Street and Gainesville Exploration Academy. The audit was conducted by Pioneer Regional Education Agency and Mid-continent Research and Learning, or McREL.
“I found no evidence of any wrongdoing,” said Richard Krise, a Pioneer RESA auditor.
The audit was recommended by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement after the department flagged the facilities after a review of wrong-to-right erasure marks on last spring’s exam. The two Gainesville schools were among dozens flagged across the state for having higher than normal erasures.
The investigation focused on three areas — training, access to test materials and variance in erasure data. Among other things, the auditors were trying to determine who had access to CRCT exams before and after students completed them and what could have caused the higher-than-expected number of erasures.
Auditors noted that there was “no evidence of tampering found” and that “the process for test handling, storing, testing and returning all documents” was followed at both Gainesville schools. However, the investigators did list several reasons why the two schools could have been flagged by the state.
According to the McREL report, if a class’ composition is different than the state’s sample class, that could lead to a different outcome for student performance. For instance, in the state’s sample class, only 6 percent of students have limited English proficiency; however, at Fair Street, that number jumps to 50 percent and at the academy it’s 51 percent.
The test-taking strategies that students have been taught could have also been a factor.
“We’ve taught them that if they finish early to go back and review their work,” said Marie Merritt, a Gainesville academy instructor.
“Now, with our honesty in question, it makes us question teaching them to go back over their answers.”
The report’s findings are a “vindication for teachers,” and they should continue teaching students to go back and check their work, said board Chairman David Syfan.
Although the schools have been cleared, Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said there will be a few changes during CRCT testing this year. Among other things, nontesting teachers will administer the test to students in the flagged schools. And while educators are required to “clean up” stray marks on students’ answer sheets, instead of using pencils, educators will use an artist eraser.
Despite the audit clearing suspicion that has surrounded the schools, educators say the damage has already been done.
“The sad thing about this is that once words have been spoken, they can’t be taken back,” said Sue Beard, a Fair Street instructor.
“The insinuations are out. I’m glad that it call came out fine, but those words stung. To be asked if you are cheating, that’s a slap in the face.”