Changes in store for this week’s crucial state testing

Schools across Georgia, including ones in Bibb County, are being much more careful with state-mandated tests this spring after an audit found questionable erasure marks on students’ 2009 answer sheets.

When Bibb County students start taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests on Tuesday, they will find changes in the way the tests are administered. For one thing, their homeroom teachers won’t be giving them the exams, as has been the case in the past.

Instead, teachers will switch and test their next-door neighbor’s classrooms to help curb any question of cheating.

And in seven Bibb schools where the state audit showed a “moderate” or “severe” number of erasure marks — with wrong answers changed to correct ones, “We’ve been asked to make sure we switch teachers across grade levels,” said Bruce Giroux, Bibb’s director of testing and accountability.

“We are doing this as some additional procedures in our security,” he said.

Those schools are Brookdale, Jones, Danforth, Williams, Bruce, Hartley and Burghard elementary schools.

In Houston County schools, the CRCT administration this week will be the same as usual.

“We aren’t doing any switching. I think the fact that our teachers know there is a new eraser-marks checking protocol is enough,” said Jolie Deloreto Hardin, principal of Matt Arthur Elementary. “No one in this economy wants to lose their jobs.”

CRCTs, begun in 2000, are given each spring to Georgia’s elementary and middle school students to measure whether they have mastered their grade-level curriculum. By law, students in third, fifth, and eighth grades must pass certain portions of the exams for promotion to the next grade.

Scores are also used for accountability under the No Child Left Behind law. For a school to make goals this year, all students in a school must score a 67.6 percent or higher in math and 73.3 percent or higher in reading and language arts.

A negative impact?

While Bibb school officials say their changes are necessary in light of the audit, at least one principal fears that the moves could lead to lower test scores. Most teachers, though, said that students should be comfortable in the hands of other teachers when they take the tests this week.

“I understand that the whole system is doing it as camaraderie,” said Skyview Elementary principal Richard Key. “I’m concerned it will have a negative impact.”

A homeroom teacher knows his or her student’s personalities — and which students to keep tabs on to stay focused, he said.

“Now all of a sudden that (teacher) is gone, and there may be a possibility of students rushing through to get done,” he said.

To help prevent that, Skyview classes practiced CRCT work with the teachers who will come into their rooms to give the exams. The school will have a “movie day” after testing is over for those students who stayed focused, Key said.

Miller Middle School principal Steve Jones and Lane Elementary teacher Julie Stubbs said they didn’t think the changes will cause any concern at their schools.

“We’re trying to set the atmosphere that our students know to be successful no matter who is in the classroom,” Jones said.

And at Lane, teachers are relying on students’ ability to have learned the material.

During recent benchmark testing, teachers at each school switched and tested students they’ll be giving exams to this week.

Cathy Magouyrk, Bibb’s deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, said she didn’t think switching teachers would negatively impact test scores.

“The results should show what students learned,” she said.

In recent days, several schools in Bibb County held pep rallies and motivational programs, and Miller Middle partnered with Williams Elementary to serve students hamburgers Saturday afternoon to help get them ready for exams.

“It’s to calm them down. They’ve been so stressed,” Jones said.

Questionable erasures

Last year, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement paid for students’ answer sheets to be scanned for erasure marks on the math, reading and language arts sections of the CRCT for first through eighth grades to check for any signs of educator tampering.

The agency released its findings in February. Bibb had 13 schools with a higher-than-normal percentage of erasures. Statewide, 1,488 elementary and middle schools were found to show no concern of changed answers, 178 schools were of minimal concern, 117 were of moderate concern and 74 schools were of severe concern for having a high number of erasure marks.

Magouyrk said one theory state officials have is that teachers may be using voice inflection or tapping on a student’s desk while giving the exams to signal students to change their test answers. But she suspects that a lot of Bibb’s erasure marks were from first- and second-grade students who were simply unsure of their answers.

The state asked Bibb County to investigate whether there had been cheating or tampering in schools here. Bibb is scheduled to release its findings in May.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.