State hires upstate attorney to head new test security office

State officials have chosen the first member of a million-dollar team that will crack down on cheating.

State Education Commissioner John King today appointed Tina Sciocchetti to be the executive director of the Test Security and Educator Integrity office, a division whose creation King announced last week following a four-month audit of the state’s test security policies and procedures.

The auditor, Hank Greenberg, found an array of deficiencies in the department’s capacity to receive and pursue test fraud allegations and issued a series of recommendations for reforms. On Monday, Greenberg presented those recommendations to the Board of Regents and today the Regents voted to approve them, formally creating the test security office.

Sciocchetti, a lawyer, will have her work cut out for her. She will confront a department that lacks an infrastructure to handle reports from local districts or pursue its own investigations. According to Greenberg’s presentation to the Regents, nearly half of the  allegations received by SED between 2006 and 2011 remain unresolved. A lack of clarity about how to handle the 276 verified allegations from the same period meant that state officials pursued revoking a teacher’s certification in just four cases.

Sciocchetti’s new office will be responsible for resolving the open cases, setting consequences for misconduct, and establishing new guidelines for pursuing its own cases using data methods that look for suspicious test score patterns. The office will also investigate other allegations of misconduct, including cases where school workers are accused of having inappropriate relationships with students.

“We’re developing the investigative and deterrence capacity to protect our teachers, administrators and, most importantly, our students from the kinds of testing scandals that have occurred in other states,” King said in a statement. “Tina Sciocchetti has the expertise, experience and skills to build the strongest test integrity safeguards in the nation.”

Assistant Commissioner Valerie Grey said last week that the test security office would receive about $1 million a year in redistributed funds to pay a staff that would likely include seven investigators. A spokesman for SED said Sciocchetti will make $140,000 in salary.

Sciocchetti currently works for the United States Attorney’s office in a district covering upstate and western New York. She lives with her family in Schenectady, where her husband is a trustee of their children’s private school.