LINCOLN — With teacher cheating scandals bubbling up in other states, Nebraska has gone on the offense.
The Nebraska Department of Education hired a consultant to examine security practices of its statewide school testing system.
The company, Utah-based Caveon Test Security, found much right with security procedures of the Nebraska State Accountability tests, which provide annual reading, writing, math and science assessments for public school students.
The firm recommended, however, that the state perform the same kind of forensic test-score analysis that helped uncover teacher cheating in Atlanta and other districts nationwide.
Such analyses look for dramatic swings in scores from grade to grade that are so improbable that they suggest cheating.
Pat Roschewski, the department's director of assessment, said no specific incident prompted the audit conducted last month while districts across the state were administering tests.
Caveon has worked on security matters with at least 12 states and the Atlanta Public Schools.
The company's auditors interviewed more than a dozen Nebraska Department of Education staff and met with staff from five school districts: Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, Crete and Gering. Auditors also studied department policies and procedures.
“We wanted to make sure we didn't have the kind of headlines that have been popping up around the country,” Roschewski said Monday during a briefing for members of the Nebraska Board of Education.
An investigation this spring by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found questionable test score swings in hundreds of school systems nationwide. In some districts, the swings were so sharp and systematic that cheating was the most likely explanation, the paper said.
The report cast a shadow over such districts as Houston, Detroit and Los Angeles.
The Atlanta newspaper's investigation examined more than 1.6 million records from 69,000 U.S. schools. Its investigation stemmed from an earlier analysis that used a similar statistical method to identify questionable testing results in Atlanta schools — a finding that was confirmed later by Georgia authorities, who found widespread cheating.
The national analysis this year found high concentrations of suspicious scores in 196 districts. Iowa had two districts: Ottumwa and Muscatine.
Nebraska was the only state not examined by the Atlanta newspaper. The state's battery of tests is too new to provide the year-to-year data required for the analysis.
This year, Nebraska will have three years of scores in reading, two in math and one in science. Roschewski said she would prefer that the state wait for a third year of math scores before conducting a forensic analysis.
The state would benefit from “regular checkups” using the analysis, she said.
Nebraska's online testing helps with security, she said. Online testing makes it hard to change answers, and it provides for random ordering of test questions, she said.
Caveon recommended the state set up an anonymous tip line to receive information on security anomalies. The firm's auditors said the state should copyright its tests and test questions, and develop a comprehensive security plan. The plan would be used for training and to coordinate the response when breaches occur.
Nebraska received praise in many areas, such as use of passwords, automatic shutoff of computers left unattended, locking up testing materials and the department's commitment to strong security and having a secure assessment system.
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