More Testing Foul-Ups, Cheating

K-12 Testing

In Georgia nearly 600,000 students were spared from having to take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in April after printing errors were discovered in the exam. The problem stemmed from previously used practice questions getting mixed with new secure items and printed together. The state was in the process of changing test providers, so it is unclear which contractor was responsible for the mix-up. The test was to have been administered to all public school students in grades one through eight but will now only be given to fourth, sixth and eighth graders. Only math and reading will be tested; science and social studies have been dropped.


Following the settlement of a lawsuit by students who were wrongly told they failed the Minnesota Basic Skills test due to a scoring error by test company NCS Pearson (see Examiner, Summer 2002, Fall 2002), a claims process has been put in place to award damages. Individual students will be eligible to collect amounts ranging from $16,000 for mis-scored test-takers who were barred from graduation ceremonies to $362.50 for those who were told they failed but were not otherwise affected. In addition to the $7 million expected to be awarded to the students, the company will pay $4 million to the plaintiffs’ lawyers and an additional $1 million in expenses for settling the claims.


The error was the result of test item numbers on the question booklet and answer sheet being misaligned after a last-minute change by NCS. The students’ lawyers filed documents showing a pattern of errors and mistakes on the part of the company due to cost-cutting and a lack of quality control. The state has since switched test providers.


Despite an earlier declaration that New York would no longer alter literary works used on the English Language Arts (ELA) exam (see Examiner, Summer 2002), a statewide coalition of civil liberties, educational and free speech organizations claim the censorship is ongoing. Examples given from the June and August administrations of the test showed at least seven literary passages that had been altered, removing references to race, sex, violence, drinking, and religion. Examples include rewriting text and deleting sentences from works by Franz Kafka and Aldus Huxley, as well as purging all references to illness and death from a transcript of a PBS program on the influenza epidemic of 1918. The coalition sent a letter to state education officials asking for public hearings on the matter.


In Tennessee, the principal of Caldwell Elementary School resigned amidst a cheating scandal. Principal Lirah Sabir is accused of excluding the weakest students on test days, doctoring answer sheets, banning monitors from classrooms, and exempting all special needs students from testing. Officials became suspicious after discovering many answer sheets on which wrong responses had been erased and changed to correct answers. All students in one teacher’s class were also reported to have scored in the 90th percentile –with most in the 99th percentile. Tennessee has for years demanded that principals and teachers deliver rising test scores, and schools that do not improve face sanctions. Caldwell had been hailed as a model school for its high scores. Local schools Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson said that test scores have become almost too important. “Educators are placed in a position now, where, unfortunately, you gear everything toward passing a test,” he said. Sabir retired in February, citing health reasons.


New Jersey officials said that their testing contractor, North Carolina-based Measurement Inc., missed deadlines and then provided flawed reports, leaving the state with no eleventh grade test results. Individual student scores, released in October 2002, were said to be accurate, but school-wide summaries and data for the state report card were not.


Thieves forced the shutdown of national General Educational Development (GED) high school equivalency exams in Arizona in February after they broke into a Tucson testing site and left with a 150-pound cabinet containing the tests. They bypassed computers and video equipment, taking only the tests, leading to the belief that either they knew what they were after or thought the cabinet contained cash.