It may have been a simple packing technique that caused two Gainesville schools to join the list of hundreds of state schools under suspicion for possible cheating on standardized tests last year, Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
Since the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement announced its findings at Wednesday’s state board of education meeting, Dyer said she has been in touch with Director Kathleen Mathers to determine why Gainesville Exploration Academy made the list.
Gainesville Exploration Academy was the only school in the city system to have more than 25 percent of its classrooms flagged for having an unusually high number of wrong answers erased and changed to right answers on last spring’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. This placed the school in the "severe" category, which includes 73 other Georgia schools that will be investigated on a local and state level.
Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School was flagged as a "moderate" concern with 13.9 percent of its classrooms found to have an unusual number of erasures.
The report — the first to break down erasure data by individual classrooms — included data from all CRCT tests taken at the first- to eighth-grade levels. If a classroom fell more than three points outside of the state average for erasures, it was flagged.
The report looked at tests packaged in groups by teachers. At Gainesville schools, special education and English language learners are generally tested in smaller groups of 10 to 13 students, but their data was put into a larger group when teachers sent in the tests.
Dyer said the majority of the flagged classes at Gainesville Exploration were first- and second-grade levels and English language learner students, a group of students more prone to erasing than others.
"From our experience and from watching them take tests, we do know they erase more," she said. "When teachers start asking them questions, they look over things and erase."
Many teachers encourage students to fill in their answer sheets quickly and then return to them later to correct answers, Dyer said.
In the future, Dyer said teachers will pack answer sheets for the small groups together and send them separately. The schools are also cooperating with the Office of Student Achievement recommendations to have more local or state monitors assist during testing.
Since last spring, the school board added three paraprofessionals at Fair Street and two at Gainesville Exploration to help monitor students requiring a smaller testing group, Dyer said.
"When you’re trying to test so many in small groups, there’s not enough adults to watch the groups," she said.
With the 2010 CRCT weeks away, she added the school board will work to quickly finish its investigation and send the findings to OSA.
"We would like to go ahead and complete it within this month and put this behind us and move on," she said. "That’s what we really need to focus on, correcting anything that we need to do for the next one."
In the Hall County system three schools were considered minimal causes for concern, including Chestnut Mountain Elementary with 6.1 percent of classrooms flagged; Lyman Hall Elementary with 6.3 percent; and White Sulphur Elementary with 6.9 percent.