Could be first time high-tech forensic test analysis has resulted in Kentucky certification consequences
The Hazard-Herald reports that two Perry County educators, Rebecca Dobson and Jonathan Jett, have had professional certificates suspended and will face restrictions on their activities as educators even after their certificates are reinstated.
These actions are the first to be taken as a result of confirmed cheating on the ACT college entrance tests in Perry County Public Schools.
Open records documents we and the Hazard-Herald separately obtained from the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board provide an interesting look into forensic test analysis procedures at the ACT, Incorporated. As the Hazard-Herald reports, that analysis convincingly establishes many student test sheets were altered at Perry County Central High School. ACT’s investigation also revealed that the students were not at fault for this attempted deception.
While the individual(s) who actually altered the sheets have not been identified at present, it is clear that those who had chain of custody responsibility for the ACT tests at the very least failed in their responsibility to protect test booklets so that others could not have made the alterations.
Discussions I had with individuals familiar with the case also make it clear that the District Assessment Coordinator (DAC) should have spotted highly unusual and unexpected scores for some students. DACs are responsible for examining testing results to look for such inconsistencies and report them for investigation, which could be evidence of cheating, or a technical scoring problem, or other issues. The Perry County DAC at the time, Mr. Jett, didn’t do that.
The penalties levied by the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board against Jett and Dobson are related to such DAC and chain of custody responsibilities. Undoubtedly, if individuals who actually participated in the alteration of the test books are discovered, those individuals’ penalties will be much harsher.
This may mark the first time that forensic test analysis has led to certification action in Kentucky. It probably will not be the last. At least three more individuals in the Perry County incident still face investigation.
Cheating on school tests has always been a concern, but before the introduction of testing forensics it was almost impossible to prove cheating on the part of school staff unless an educator within the school system came forward. Now, that is changing, and the change is coming just in time.
Kentucky’s new school assessment program is going to have consequences for students, teachers and school systems. In particular, annual teacher evaluations will soon include a measurement of the performance of students on state tests.
Clearly, the new tests open up multiple potential avenues to create temptations to cheat.
Well aware of this, the Kentucky Department of Education has already let a contract with a commercial test security firm to tighten security for Kentucky’s assessments. I believe that the plan includes adding forensic capabilities similar to those used by the ACT in the Perry County cheating case.
Thus, as we approach the first round of testing with the state’s new assessments, the word needs to get out. If you cheat, or if you are a responsible person who allows conditions where others can manipulate answer sheets, you face increased odds of paying a penalty.