Students stuck after program flags possible cheating - FOX 13 News

Students stuck after program flags possible cheating

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

You tell your kids to study hard and you'll pass the test. But some are failing in Florida, and they're looking for answers to try to figure out how it happened.

Across the state, thousands of kids failed high-stakes exams because their test was flagged by a computer program. It's run by a company in Utah called "Caveon Test Security." Florida's Department of Education contracts with the firm, which uses data forensics to compare millions of tests.

It invalidates scores that appear too similar, and when that happens, the student is guilty until proven innocent.

Mitchel Banks' nephew was flagged at Plant High School in Tampa. Banks says he's convinced his nephew didn't cheat after talking with the teacher who was in the room during the end-of-course algebra exam.

"I would have my doubts if the teacher didn't back him 100 percent, because he's not perfect," Banks said.

But Banks says the teacher, principal and even school board can't help and are virtually powerless.

"I talked with a few people at the school and I was basically told that I can hold my breath, because it has to go through the process on a state level," says Banks.

Steve Hegarty, spokesman for Hillsborough County Schools, confirmed all questions and appeals are handled in Tallahassee and he understands the frustration.

"That's kind of an unfortunate thing, because nobody is accusing somebody of cheating," Hegarty says.

Although technically it is not called cheating, parents and students say it's all the same, because if students test results are too similar, they are flagged as an irregularity. Both students then must retake the test before moving on.

Florida's Department of Education will not disclose the criteria used to invalidate a test. But a spokesperson told FOX 13 the computer program is designed to identify anomalous test-taking patterns, such as identical test answers among students at the same school, which are statistically improbable when compared to the rest of the state.

But isn't it possible that if the students were taught by the same teacher, they might miss the exact same questions?

"Logic would tell you that, but my understanding is that the odds of the test being that similar are very, very rare," Hegarty said.

In the spring of 2013, the computer program identified 2887 irregularities across the state. In the Bay Area, Hillsborough County had the most, at 253.

In Pinellas County, 81 student tests were flagged, and 60 were identified in Polk County.

Pasco County, Sarasota and Manatee all had fewer than 50.

There is a lengthy appeals process, and records show fewer than 10 percent of the students who appeal are successful.

As a result, potentially thousands of students and parents feel cheated by a computer.

"Whenever they say there's a one in a million or one in one-hundred thousand chance, we might be talking about that one, but still that's going to be a burden for the student," Hegarty said.


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