Electronic devices are banned during the all-important Standardized Testing and Reporting exam, which is used to determine academic progress. Now 242 California schools have been flagged by the Department of Education for possible cheating because students posted hundreds of test-related pictures on social media while taking the STAR test last spring.
Many images seem harmless, like so-called bubble art from their answer sheet, but 16 schools are getting extra scrutiny because actual test questions were posted that could have given others an advantage.
"We're going to look at the number of students that are impacted by the exposed item. And if, in fact, we found that this is sufficient to invalidate the score, then that's what we'll do," said California Deputy Superintendent Deborah Sigman.
Invalidating an Academic Performance Index is huge because that number is essentially the school's reputation. Many parents choose a school based on its API. If that school is one of the 242 being investigated, its online results come with a warning about how the numbers may not be accurate.
Junior Ellisha Huntoon's high school made the list, and that upsets her.
"It's a shock because our school is such a good school. You would never think the few kids would ever do something like that. But they did. I guess we have to suffer the consequences now," said Huntoon.
The state beefed up the monitoring, assigning more staff to cull social media sites, like Twitter and Instagram, while students took the test. They were hoping to improve from last year's numbers, but they found even more images this year.
Mariela Zavala, a high school junior, told a friend to remove a picture taken during the exam.
"I think it's just because they think that they're going to get more popular or something by putting the test on Instagram," said Zavala.
While the Department of Education says none of the postings affected test results, final decisions on punishment, if any, are weeks away.