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What Is a Testing Irregularity (and How to Respond)

Posted by Walt Drane, Ed.S.

updated over a week ago


Implementing a high-stakes test administration procedure for state tests can be daunting—even for the most experienced test coordinator and administrator. Unfortunately, testing irregularities and incidents happen, and when they do, they must be well documented and followed up on to ensure valid and reliable test scores and also adhere to Peer Review Requirements. There are many ways to collect information from the field, and some methods are easier than others. 

Table of Contents

  1. What Is a Testing Irregularity
  2. Examples of Testing Irregularities
  3. Common Methods of Testing Irregularity Management & Reporting
    1. Paper Forms
    2. Electronic Databases
    3. Spreadsheets & Survey Tools
  4. Moving Forward: After-Action Reviews

What Is a Testing Irregularity?

A testing irregularity is any incident during a test’s administration or testing window that leads to a question regarding the security of the test or the accuracy and validity of the test scores. An incident can meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • An event that inappropriately influences student performance
  • An event that inappropriately influences the reporting of student performance
  • An event that constitutes a breach in test security
  • An event that results in the improper implementation of mandatory student testing

Examples of Testing Irregularities

Testing irregularities come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. They can include, but are not limited to:

  • During testing, a student is caught cheating.
  • A student accesses their cell phone or electronic device, hand-written notes, past study guide, etc.
  • While testing, a student becomes ill or leaves the testing room unescorted.
  • Within the testing window, students are interrupted by PA announcements, alarm systems, or drills.
  • An examiner, proctor, teacher, or other faculty member provides assistance to a student during the test.
  • A faculty member who has not signed the School Personnel Test Security Agreement enters the testing room while secure testing materials are exposed.
  • A student's test booklet or used answer document is missing.
  • Testing accommodations specified in a student's IEP, 504 Plan, or LEP Student Assessment Participation Plan are not provided, or a student is provided an accommodation that is not specified in their plan.

Common Methods of Testing Irregularity Management & Reporting

1. Paper Forms

One of the most common methods (that I’m sure you are all aware of) is creating a paper form for test administrators to complete when an incident occurs. The form exists to capture all relevant information from the incident—such as the name of each person involved, the name of the individual completing the form, their contact information to be used for follow-up (if needed), the room number or location where the incident occurred, the name of the test being administered, the time and date of the incident, and a thorough description of everything that happened.

You can quickly see that collecting these reporting forms through email, a shared document site, or even fax can get overwhelming. This is where things get dangerous. When the collector gets overwhelmed, the reported incidents go unnoticed, thus defeating the purpose of collecting them in the first place. I know that many of you (as I was during my tenure as Executive Director of Assessment and Accountability in Mississippi) have had more than enough of these paper forms.

2. Electronic Databases

A simpler approach to reporting and managing incidents is to collect them using an electronic database.  A database can capture all of the same information as the paper forms (and additional information more easily). Databases also enable the information to be filtered and sorted in a unique manner, alert you to high-priority incidents, and generate a report for busy executives to provide a high-level overview to superiors whenever needed. 

At the risk of getting too “salesy,” I want to direct you to one such database offered by Caveon, called Core. Core is specifically designed for logging and tracking testing irregularities and generating incident reports. It aims to simplify the intake of information and the collection process for all parties involved. It has sophisticated permissions that enable you to securely upload and share files, while also controlling who sees what, who can add or delete files, and who see certain folders. Utilizing a database like this is especially important when handling hundreds (or even thousands) of incidents during a test administration window. Core also gives you a dashboard of data visualization, allowing busy executives to see what has been collected and what high-priority items need to be acted on first when a serious threat to the validity of test scores is uncovered. A report of the data visualization is also available at the push of a button. This report becomes a piece of evidence that the State Education Agency can submit to meet federal Peer Review requirements (which are outlined in this document).

3. Spreadsheets & Survey Tools

If Core is not a tool available to you, there are other collection methods that could be implemented in lieu of the traditional paper collection method. For example, consider having test administrators and coordinators fill out an Excel document or answer online questions through a survey tool when a testing irregularity is uncovered. This will at least remove the seemingly never-ending stream of forms, and provide some sorting and organizing capabilities.

Whatever process you choose, the key is to stay organized and follow up on irregularities as they are reported. Don’t allow them to stack up, or worse, pretend they don’t exist! Instead, have a process, train on the process, and work your process.

Moving Forward

Lastly, after each test administration, host an after-action review to document what worked and what didn’t. Listen to the field and make adjustments where needed in order to ensure a smoother process for managing and reporting testing irregularities going forward.


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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For more than 18 years, Caveon Test Security has driven the discussion and practice of exam security in the testing industry. Today, as the recognized leader in the field, we have expanded our offerings to encompass innovative solutions and technologies that provide comprehensive protection: Solutions designed to detect, deter, and even prevent test fraud.

Topics from this blog: Test Security Consulting Investigating Security Incidents K-12 Education Test Security Basics Monitoring Test Administration Detection Measures Test Security Plan Security Incident Response Plan