Cheating Cases Continue to Proliferate

K-12 Testing


FairTest Examiner - July 2007


In ever increasing numbers, reports of schools and districts tampering with high-stakes exams, facilitating cheating or turning a blind eye to inappropriate test-taking behavior continue to occur. The harsh penalties and heavy pressure of the current testing requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and state exams continue to tempt some to improve scores at all costs. Cheating cases and test security policies are under review in New York, Texas, California, Ohio, Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, Maryland, and elsewhere.

New York invalidated scores on Regents high school math exams and math tests in grades three through eight in the Uniondale district. An investigation found "significant discrepancies." Officials believe that lax test security procedures allowed school staffers to alter student's answer sheets. After tighter security was put in place for the latest round of testing, Uniondale's math scores fell significantly in contrast to most of Long Island, which saw its scores rise. The district remains on academic probation while a state attorney general's investigation continues. A recent investigation by the state comptroller found that more than 15% of schools were not meeting the requirements for securing Regents tests. However, not all allegations of cheating are true. A 2005 investigation that confirmed allegations of Regents exam-tampering and a school cover-up (see Examiner, Fall 2005) was flawed, according to a new report. A two-year review by NY Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon refuted many of the initial findings, which relied heavily on the close relationship of the original Office of Special Investigations (OSI) investigator and the teacher who brought the complaint. The original report had resulted in Assistant Principal Theresa Capra being deemed ineligible to work in the state. The new findings have cleared the way for Capra to return to her job and prompted a restructuring of OSI.

In Texas, the Dallas Morning News claimed there are more than 50,000 cases of cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). State officials maintain that the problem is small and being addressed. The paper looked at score sheets from 2005 and 2006 statewide, finding that nearly a third of schools had some evidence of cheating, including students copying from each other and school officials doctoring answer sheets. The problem centers in large urban districts like Dallas and Houston, but also was prevalent in charter schools as well. A large portion of suspicious scores was on the 11th grade tests required for graduation. The paper's analysis statistically identified pairs of answers too similar to each other to be the result of chance. (See Examiner, January 2007.)

A San Francisco Chronicle expose revealed a pattern of teachers compromising the validity of California's high stakes achievement tests in at least 123 public schools since 2004. Many observers believe the figure is much higher since the California Department of Education relies on schools to voluntarily report irregularities and cheating. Of the 123 schools, nearly two-thirds admitted cheating and in some cases detailed the methods used to boost scores. The state also scans test answer sheets for unusual erasure marks. Between 2004 and 2006, the scans found suspicious erasures in nearly 500 tests given at 162 schools. When state officials first asked the districts to launch investigate themselves, only 28 schools acknowledged problems.

The Dayton, Ohio, Daily News asked the state why no notice had been taken of the fact that the City Day Charter School, which ranked last in the state on the 2005 state math test, outranked the highest scoring schools in the state on the 2006 test. The Daily News found that as many as 44 questions from the actual test appeared on practice tests given to some students. The state attorney general's office has begun an investigation. Meanwhile, Cleveland officials are examining the cause of irregular scoring patterns on the science portion of the Ohio Graduation Test at Collinwood High School. Teachers are being investigated at the Edison Middle school in Dade County, Florida, for allegedly allowing students early access to tests and providing extra time in which to take it. Millis, Florida, officials are investigating allegations that a 15-year veteran third grade teacher completed a student's incomplete test before turning it in. Several teachers have found themselves facing unemployment after assisting students with testing. Three Oakland, California teachers agreed to resign at the end of the school year. Memphis, Tennessee officials are seeking to fire a fourth grade teacher after testing irregularities, including heavy answer sheet erasures and test booklet markings, were discovered. South Dakota officials were deciding whether to sanction several schools that appeared to have shared state test materials with students in advance of the tests when they realized they had no law on the books with which to address cheating. Maryland claimed that this year's testing has gone smoothly after randomly dispatching extra monitors to 45 schools for the Maryland State Achievement Tests following instances of teachers sharing test materials. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, DC officials have also employed additional monitors for the latest rounds of testing.