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Students' online photos of California tests delay release of scores

Results of the standardized tests won't be released until Aug. 31. Millikan High in Long Beach and North Hollywood High are among the schools that could have their API scores invalidated, leading to sanctions or loss of grants.

July 18, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • A sample answer sheet for a standardized test is shown. Students at schools across California posted photos of standardized test materials on social media sites. Officials have delayed the release of the scores and are reviewing some schools, including North Hollywood High and Millikan High in Long Beach -- which could face sanctions.
A sample answer sheet for a standardized test is shown. Students at schools… (Los Angeles Times )

Student photos of state standardized tests posted on social networks have caused a two-week delay in the release of scores and could result in more serious ramifications for nearly 150 California schools.

In a letter sent to all state school districts this week, the Department of Education announced the postponement of the 2012 test results until Aug. 31.

"It is imperative that when districts, teachers, parents and students receive their test results, we all can be assured that the integrity of the system remains intact," Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said in the letter.

Most of the posted images were of such things as "closed test booklets or blank answer documents," said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the Education Department.

Still, students posted 36 different test items online, prompting an analysis by the state and the Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J. So far, experts have concluded that test scores were unaffected at the state or district level, Hefner said. Individual schools' scores remain under review.

A potential problem looms for campuses where students took the photos, most likely with their cellphones. In the worst-case scenario, these schools could lose scores on the state's Academic Performance Index, California's rating system for schools. That embarrassment also could expose a school to the loss of grants or to sanctions — because being stripped of a score means a school hasn't met performance targets.

The state identified one middle school and 11 high schools where one or more students posted test items. Officials said they would decide the fate of such schools.

But Long Beach Unified officials said they only learned Wednesday, from a reporter, that one of their schools, Millikan High, is on the state's list.

Ditto in L.A. Unified. North Hollywood High Principal Randy Delling, who didn't know his school was on the list, added that he isn't surprised the issue has arisen.

"The teenagers aren't held accountable in any way, shape or form for the test," he said. "Of course they're going to take a picture with a cellphone. They also write the names of their boyfriend or girlfriend in the bubbles on the answer sheet."

The problem emerged in April, near the start of the testing period. In all, 249 students posted 442 images on social-networking sites, including Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Webstagram and Pinterest. The 147 affected schools are spread across 94 school districts.

The issues are deeper than the 36 compromised items. A student who posted a vanity photo of himself posing with a test booklet also could have taken photos of test items that were shared among friends but never posted online.

A school can lose its score if 5% of tests are invalidated. Cheating or lesser mistakes by teachers and other staff led to canceled scores at about two dozen California schools last year.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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