Students at 3 local schools posted STAR test pictures online, officials say

slinn@thetribunenews.comAugust 12, 2013 

Arroyo Grande High School

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Students at three San Luis Obispo County schools posted images of standardized testing materials to social media sites, the California Department of Education said, prompting concerns about possible cheating.

They were among 242 schools in California where students posted pictures to Facebook, Instagram and similar websites during Standardized Testing and Reporting, or, STAR, assessments earlier this year. That’s a slight increase from 2012, when state monitors caught test-takers at 216 schools sharing images with friends.

“For us, personally, it means we need to do a better job” monitoring students’ cell phone use, said Principal Tom Butler of Arroyo Grande High School, one of 16 schools where students were caught posting pictures of actual test questions or answers. “Basically, we let our guard down.”

Atascadero High School and Templeton Independent High School were among 226 schools where students shared other, more innocuous images, such as the covers of testing booklets and words and illustrations created by filling in test bubbles.

Atascadero High School Principal E.J. Rossi and Templeton Unified School District Superintendent Joe Koski, who is also the principal of the Templeton Independent Study High program, did not return calls for comment Monday.

In the case of Arroyo Grande High, a male student “thought a graphic they drew for a question was pretty funny” and snapped a photo of it with his cell phone without being seen by a substitute teacher, Butler said.

“When he put it on his Instagram, he mentioned the STAR test,” Butler said, drawing the attention of state testing monitors.

As soon as school officials learned of the incident, they went to the classroom and questioned the student, then asked him to take out his phone and remove the image, the principal said.

The state Department of Education conducted its own investigation of the incident and “gave us a clear bill of health,” he said.

Butler said Arroyo Grande High has a strict policy barring the on-campus use of cell phones except before school, after school and during passing periods.

If kids are caught using cell phones in class, their parents have to pick up their devices, he said. Detention is another possible outcome.

Butler said students and teachers alike are well aware of the school’s rules regarding personal devices and tend to follow them. “It’s becoming a non-issue,” he said.

State education officials said students sharing images of test materials did not ultimately compromise test results.

“These postings look to be attempts by students to gain attention among their friends, not an effort to gain an advantage on a test,” said Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of the District, School and Innovation Branch for the state Department of Education, in a news release.

In addition to social media monitoring, the department conducted random security audits, instructed examiners and STAR coordinators on protocol and reinforced local officials’ responsibilities to keep test materials secure, the news release said.

The state Department of Education plans to continue monitoring testing in the future, a department spokeswoman said, noting that California switches from STAR to a new test format in 2015.

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