In what might be the largest number of California schools implicated in security breaches during high-stakes testing, the state Department of Education has flagged 242 campuses, including 46 in the Bay Area, for incidents involving photos posted to social media sites with information related to standardized tests.
Sixteen of the schools were flagged for serious breaches that included posts of test questions or answers, including four in the Bay Area: Yerba Buena High in San Jose, Pittsburg High in Contra Costa County, Amador Valley High in Pleasanton and Lowell High in San Francisco.
The posted photos were taken during the administration of the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams but do not appear to involve deliberate cheating, according to state and school officials. In one case, a teen told a school administrator he did it because he was bored.
The violations underscore the popularity among youths of social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and the difficulty for administrators to police the use of cellphones in the classroom. This was the second year the state has found social media security breaches related to its standardized tests.
In 2012, 216 schools were flagged for violations, including a dozen that posted legible test answers or questions. There have been other types of security breaches in the past but none that were so widespread involving social media.
As a result, the state Department of Education has beefed up its test monitoring and conducts random audits and gives detailed protocol instructions to test coordinators, said deputy state superintendent Deb Sigman.
"We take the validity and reliability of our assessments very seriously, and our schools do too, which is why we redoubled our efforts to monitor these postings and alerted school districts when they occurred," she said. "These postings look to be attempts by students to gain attention among their friends, not an effort to gain an advantage on a test."
Although the breaches did not affect the individual school test results, they could affect accountability reports to be released next month, which are based on the test scores, Sigman said.
An additional 226 schools in California were flagged for less significant breaches, which did not involve revealing test questions or answers. In the Bay Area, these schools were in districts including Acalanes, Albany, Antioch, Berkeley, East Side Union, Fremont Unified, Fremont Union, Gilroy, Hayward, Jefferson Union, Martinez, Milpitas, Mt. Diablo, New Haven, Newark, San Mateo Union, San Ramon Valley, Santa Clara Unified, Sequoia Union, South San Francisco and the West Contra Costa school district.
Chris Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union district in San Jose, which includes Yerba Buena High and six other high schools flagged for less serious breaches, said none of the social media posts in his district involved cheating. He said all were Instagram posts, with most showing test booklets or empty answer sheets.
"It was just a couple of kids being dopey about not taking the test seriously before they actually started the test," he said.
Funk said one student posted questions from a previous year's test that were downloaded from a website, but no test questions or answers from this year. Sigman, however, said Yerba Buena's breach involved at least one "live item" from this year's test.
The students and test administrators involved in the breaches were disciplined, Funk said, declining to elaborate. Next year, he said, the district will remind students and staff about proper testing protocols and may begin requiring students to enter test areas only with clear bags so administrators can be sure they don't have cellphones.
Pittsburg Superintendent Linda Rondeau said the breach reported at Pittsburg High was a test booklet's diagram of a muscle tendon posted on Instagram with the label "Kobe Bryant," showing the area the pro basketball star for the Los Angeles Lakers injured in May. This was posted while students were taking the English portion of the test, Rondeau said.
"The message he relayed to us is that he was finished and bored and looked further into the test," she said. "There were just a handful that he Instagrammed, and they were not necessarily in the same courses or classes."
Still, she said Pittsburg plans to be more vigilant about enforcing test protocols in the future.
Pleasanton Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said that a student posted a photo of his friend's test booklet on Facebook, along with a comment that the friend hadn't finished the test yet.
"I think our students are so used to using social media for posting everything. In this case, I don't believe it was their intention to cheat, or for anyone else to cheat," she said, adding that the student was lectured and the incident reported by school officials to the district and the state.
At Lowell High in San Francisco, a student posted a picture of an English language arts question the student thought was "funny," said spokeswoman Gentle Blythe in an email. The student said the picture was posted for 45 minutes, then taken down after a friend said they would get in trouble. The student's score was invalidated by the state, she said.
"We take the validity and reliability of our assessments very seriously," Blythe said. "Lowell and the teacher in the classroom where the breach occurred will review their proctoring expectations and decide if they need to refine their policy for cellphones."
Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley district, which was flagged for a minor breach at Berkeley High, said one student posted a picture of a blank test answer page on Twitter. She was interviewed by two vice principals and did not know she had done anything wrong, he said. She was not disciplined.
"It was clearly a kid who had no ill intent," Coplan said. "It was nothing that impacted the test."
State officials expect to determine the impacts of this year's breaches in the next few weeks. If a security breach affects less than 5 percent of students tested, the school may not be eligible for academic awards. If more than 5 percent of students are affected, the school's Academic Performance Index score, which measures schoolwide academic growth, could be invalidated.
Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Doug Oakley and Jeremy Thomas contributed to this report. Theresa Harrington covers education. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or email@example.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.