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The Atlanta Journal Constitution

National Education Policy Built on Test Scores Undermined by Cheating Trend: Report

School Test Cheating Thrives While Investigations Languish

Michael Pell

The AJC’s survey of the 50 state education departments found that many states do not use basic test security measures designed to stop cheating on tests. (Hyosub Shin/Photo illustration)

The stain of cheating spread unchecked across 44 Atlanta schools before the state finally stepped in and cleaned it up. But across the country, oversight remains so haphazard that most states cannot guarantee the integrity of their standardized tests, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Poor oversight means that cheating scandals in other states are inevitable. It also undermines a national education policy built on test scores, which the states and local districts use to fire teachers, close schools and direct millions of dollars in funding.

The AJC’s survey of the 50 state education departments found that many states do not use basic test security measures designed to stop cheating on tests. And most states make almost no attempt to screen test results for irregularities.

For example, a computer analysis of erasures on test papers and a statistical analysis of improbable gains on tests are both proven ways to catch cheating. Georgia uses one of those methods, but Alabama uses neither.

The survey reveals other wildly inconsistent practices around the country: Some states require outside investigations of cheating in school districts, but most states permit districts to investigate themselves; some states look for unusual increases in test scores, but most don’t; about half send out independent monitors to oversee testing, about half do not.

At the root of the inconsistencies: The United States has a clear national strategy of administering make-or-break tests to nearly every schoolchild, but it has no national strategy to ensure the tests’ integrity.

Ten years after the No Child Left Behind Act made testing the keystone of U.S. education policy, the federal government has yet to issue standards, guidelines or even recommendations on how to prevent and detect cheating.

For years, federal officials have ignored warnings from government watchdog agencies and testing experts that inadequate security can lead to system cheating on a scale that undermines the entire system of testing. Systemic cheating gives education officials a false understanding of student achievement and, more important, robs struggling students of access to the extra help they need to improve.

Cheating scandals have surfaced in several major cities, and a Journal-Constitution analysis of test scores earlier this year suggests a nationwide problem. The newspaper reported in March that 196 school districts exhibited patterns of suspicious test scores similar to those in Atlanta, where the patterns proved to be cheating.

And if cheating is widespread, it is likely to get worse. As more states and districts tie teacher evaluations, bonuses and pay to test results, the motivation to cheat will only increase in the years to come.

Read the full report at The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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