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Test Administration Guidelines

Posted by Walt Drane, Ed.S.

updated over a week ago

What Are Test Administration Guidelines?

Test administration guidelines are a set of policies and procedures that outline how standardized assessments should be distributed and administered. These guidelines exist in order to increase consistency, ensure test security, and safeguard the fair and reliable results of exam scores.

Having experience in both administering these assessments and also leading the office in charge of the development of high-stakes, large-scale assessments, I know the importance of following guidelines when administering statewide assessments in a K-12 setting. Test administration guidelines ensure the test-taking experience remains congruent for all examinees, despite the fact that test takers will be taking tests at different sites, on different dates, with different proctors, and under different conditions.

What Assessments are Required in K-12 Testing?

With springtime comes statewide large-scale testing in all fifty states across the nation. The U.S. Department of Education requires the administration of assessments in the following areas:

  • Grades 3-8 and Once in High School:
    • English Language Arts (ELA)
    • Mathematics
  • Once in Elementary, Middle, and High School:
    • Science

Assessment Guidelines Before, During, and After Testing

Guidelines Before Testing Begins

Locate the Test Coordinator Manual: The first resource that I would recommend locating is the Test Coordinator Manual (TCM) that your State Education Agency or test vendor makes available prior to the testing window opening. The TCM will become your “go-to” resource to ensure testing runs smoothly under your supervision.    

Train Your Test Administrators: First and foremost, anyone and everyone involved in the testing process should be properly trained for their role on how to properly administer or proctor the required assessments. Training should be thorough and include all the policies and procedures that are required by both the State Education Agency (SEA) and the local school district.

It is best practice to use a sign-in sheet for the trainings and provide your audience with an agenda of topics to be covered. I would also recommend handing your audience a packet of materials. The materials packet could possibly include a copy of the PowerPoint or information to be discussed, test security policies and procedures, state laws, local guidelines, and/or oaths of certification forms pertaining to the prohibition of misconduct during the administration of statewide testing. Providing these handouts to your audience gives you documentation that you not only verbally covered training material, but also provided hard copies that each audience member signed for when they entered training. Therefore, it is best practice to keep a copy of the sign-in sheet, oaths of certification forms, and any training material in case there are problems with the administration of statewide assessments. It is also important to communicate to your audience that only test administrators and proctors who have been properly trained will be allowed to administer and proctor tests during the administration.

Provide the Test Administration Manual: Every test administrator (TA) should be provided a copy of the Test Administrator Manual (TAM). The TAM is their number one resource that explains the “how-to” of testing, includes scripts on what to say during the test administration process, and copies of student agreements, if required by the state. Each TA should read the manual thoroughly ahead of the first test administration in order to become familiar with the roles and responsibilities they will be required to carry out.

Secure the Logistics: In a K-12 environment, it is crucial for the Test Coordinator to create a testing schedule at least a couple of weeks prior to testing. To do this properly, you will need to identify rooms where testing will be held and assign a test administrator and proctor to each testing room. Next, you should assign students to each room. Some Local Education Agencies (LEAs) assign students based on homeroom, by a certain class period, or by last name of the students. The bottom line is you need to identify where the test takers will go on the day of testing to have the test administered to them. If testing with computers, be sure to consider the number of devices available for each student you have assigned to the testing room. It is best practice to avoid conflicts of interest, such as allowing test administrators/proctors the ability to give the test to their own children, or family members. If possible, do not allow teachers to administer the test to the students they teach. This is usually not possible, due to limited staffing at schools. One possible solution would be to have an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher administer the math assessment and vice-versa.

Account for Disabilities: Students with disabilities need to be accounted for in the testing schedule and must be afforded the proper accommodation(s) according to their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For paper-based testing, there is typically a window of opportunity where accommodated materials can be ordered from the testing vendor. Likewise, accommodations and accessibility features can be assigned to individual students prior to testing.  

Secure Test Materials: The day before testing, secure test materials such as test booklets, answer documents, scratch paper, student authorization tickets for computer-based tests, etc. should be placed in a plastic bin separated by testing room/test administrator. It is also important to provide the TA with the roster of students who have been assigned to their testing room. These rosters help to ensure proper student placement. Being organized and having a plan on the day of testing will make the check-in/check-out process of secure materials go much smoother. Notify your State Education Agency or testing vendor if you are missing any materials and order additional materials as necessary. 

Check In with the TA’s: On the day of testing, the Test Coordinator needs to ensure that each Test Administrator knows how to troubleshoot common online problems if tests are being administered online. TA’s also need to be reminded to space student workstations out or use desktop carrels to prevent answer copying and other forms of cheating.    

Possible testing irregularities before testing may include, but are not limited to:

    • Violations of Test Policies and Procedures
      • Insufficient test security training
      • Testing materials not properly secured or accounted for
      • Unauthorized access to secure test content
      • Solicitation, receipt, distribution, or use of secure test content
      • Organized schemes to alter assessment results
      • Fraudulent manipulation of student attendance records
      • Exclusion of students based on aptitude
      • Prompting schemes
      • Seating manipulation or “buddy” systems
      • “Drill it and kill it” teaching with secure test content
      • Pre-filled answers 

Guidelines During Testing

Prepare the Test Coordinator: While students are testing, the Test Coordinator should remain visible in the testing environment (hallway, etc.) in order to be available to answer TA questions or provide technical assistance should any issues arise. It is also incumbent of the Test Coordinator to ensure that all test administration and test security policies and procedures are followed during operational testing. On the day of testing, the Test Coordinator should remind TA’s and Proctors how to document testing irregularities that may occur during testing.

Implement During-Testing Security Measures: A sure-fire way to ensure TA’s and students are following the rules and adhering to security policies is through test administration monitoring. Monitoring test administration district- or state-wide provides many benefits, including preventing and detecting attempts at cheating and fraud. But it can also provide a wealth of data to help you make actionable improvements to your test administration procedures, measure trending threats, and evaluate your security practices over time. Monitoring is especially useful to state departments of education that need to meet Peer Review requirements.

Possible testing irregularities during testing may include, but are not limited to:

    • Violations of Test Policies and Procedures
      • Testing materials not properly secured or accounted for
      • Unauthorized access to secure test content
      • Student Misconduct
      • Accessing prohibited material for assistance
      • Copying answers of others
      • Possession or use of an electronic device
      • Recording or “harvesting” secure test content
      • Using recorded or harvested secure test content to gain an advantage
      • TC/TA/Proctor negligence

    • TA/Proctor misconduct
      • Providing unauthorized accommodations
      • Intentional absence from the testing room
      • Coaching, prompting, or assisting—however subtle
      • Instructing students not to answer certain questions
      • Recording or harvesting secure test content
      • Organized schemes to alter results
      • Prompting schemes
      • Seating manipulation or “buddy” systems
      • Collusion to determine correct answers and provide them to students

Guidelines After Testing Has Ended

Secure Testing Material: Once testing is over, both secure and non-secure testing materials must be brought back to the secure storage location for reconciliation. Some Test Coordinators prefer to have the TA/Proctor bring back these materials to the secure storage area, while others prefer to collect them individually by going room to room. Either method is appropriate, as long as the materials are tracked using the check-in/check-out procedure. That way there is a complete record showing the chain of custody in the event an issue arises after testing. Once all the materials are collected, the Test Coordinator should prepare their plastic bins for the next day of testing. In the event there is no more testing, then the Test Coordinator should pack up the secure and non-secure test materials as instructed by the local LEA and/or State Education Agency. All testing materials should be locked up in the secure storage location prior to leaving school for the day.

Implement After-Testing Security Measures: States and districts can utilize data forensics to determine whether Test Administrators or students have violated the rules and whether certain districts have anomalous results pointing to cheating—which will help you make informed decisions that improve your test security practices in the short and long run. (We have a webinar that goes into depth about utilizing data forensics for state assessments and a guide that describes how these statistics work.) Then, if an incident is uncovered, conducting investigations into suspected security breaches will help you determine whether further action is needed.

Common violations of test policies and procedures after testing are as follows:    

    • Violations of Test Policies and Procedures
      • Testing materials not properly secured or accounted for
      • Unauthorized access to secure test content
      • Solicitation, receipt, distribution, or use of secure test content
      • Alteration of test responses
      • Organized schemes to alter results
      • Creation of harvested item bank
      • Alteration of test responses

Conclusion

Test administration guidelines exist in order to reduce cheating and ensure the fair and reliable test scores of standardized K-12 exams. Utilizing test administration procedures is beneficial to both examinees and test administers alike, and following test administration guidelines increases consistency and test security. There are protocols before, during, and after testing that should be considered, and resources are available to states and districts to support fluid test administration practices.


Walt Drane, Ed.S.

Walt Drane is an experienced K-12 large-scale assessment professional with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. In his role at Caveon, he is a strong business development professional who is skilled in the unique area of test security. His former experiences include serving as the Executive Director of the Offices of Assessment and District and School Performance for the Office of Accountability at the Mississippi Department of Education. There, he provided continued oversight and development over assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts for grades 3-8, science in grades 5 and 8, end-of-course high stakes assessments in the areas of Algebra I, English II, Biology I, and U.S. History, and alternate assessments for those students in grades 3-8 and 12 who have significant cognitive disabilities. He also led Mississippi’s Test Security Unit at the department of education and has led multiple large-scale investigations throughout the State of Mississippi to ensure the validity and reliability of state-wide assessment results. Mr. Drane has spoken at several national and international venues on various assessment topics, including the National Conference on Student Assessment (NCSA), National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), the Conference on Test Security (COTS), Association of Test Publishers (ATP), and European Association of Test Publishers (E-ATP). Mr. Drane has also served as a high school assistant principal, athletic director, and elementary and middle school teacher. He holds a B.A. in Political Science with a focus on International Relations, a Certificate in Criminal Justice and Corrections, a Master’s degree in Education, and an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership.

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Topics from this blog: K-12 Education Test Security Basics Monitoring Test Administration Detection Measures Prevention Measures