ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A new investigation released by the Public Education Department raises questions about La Cueva High School's testing procedures.
According to the report, students who hadn't completed certain sessions of their Standard Based Assessment tests were allowed to take hour lunch breaks with fellow students during the March 2013 exams.
PED investigators looked into whether students used that time to exchange answers and check textbooks before going back in to complete the exam.
- More from KRQE.com: Read the PED report» (PDF download)
Interviews with staff and students revealed this was a protocol that had been followed at La Cueva for years. However, because of the way this year's sessions were scheduled at the school, up to half of the students had not finished certain test sessions when they were allowed to take a break.
"La Cueva High School Test Coordinators, Test Administrators, and students acknowledged that a protocol had been followed for many years that allowed students to take group breaks in the middle of SBA sessions in every content area," the report said.
The PED says the investigation started when an anonymous caller tipped off Albuquerque Public Schools about the allegations reporting that La Cueva administrators didn't appear concerned with the issue.
According to SBA rules, students aren't allowed to even use the restroom in the middle of a test session without an escort.
PED investigators and APS testing manager Chris Brunder interviewed students, teachers and staff after getting the tip.
"We found no evidence that there was any cheating going on or any conversations about the test," Brunder says.
According to the report, 11th grade students who were interviewed for the investigation did say they heard students talking about the test during the break but denied talking about answers.
"They acknowledged that students were told not to talk about the test, and they observed that students still did," the report says.
A student KRQE News 13 talked to in April had a different story.
"Sometimes we get breaks in the middle of the test, and some people can just walk around telling each other what they did," said junior Matt Miller, who expressed concern at the practice. "If they had a problem on the test they didn't get, someone could easily tell them the answer, and they could go back in and finish up later."
The testing company, Measured Progress, did erasure analysis on the tests in question, which revealed there weren't enough erasure marks that changed wrong answers to right ones to raise suspicion of widespread cheating. Therefore, the test results won't be thrown out.
But investigators found something else.
The La Cueva testing coordinator who had been in the position for 12 years and whose name is withheld in the report appeared to challenge the investigator's concerns.
"His/her question did not acknowledge the difference between a break for personal reasons (e.g. to go to the bathroom)…which requires that a student be escorted and monitored…and group breaks and lunch in which large numbers of students are allowed to mingle, talk, go to lockers and use cell phones without being closely monitored," the report says.
The report says the testing coordinator told investigators they had followed the protocol of allowing students who weren't finished to go to lunch "in prior years when only four or five students did not finish sessions between breaks."
The investigation recommends the testing coordinator be "sanctioned," but APS says that individual has since retired.
The PED says there's no way to check the scores of students who were let out early in past test years.
The investigation also recommends the principal and vice-principal attend SBA trainings, in addition to the testing coordinator.
The La Cueva principal did not return News 13 calls for an interview. La Cueva High School has some of the highest test scores in the state.
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