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In light of repeated cheating scandals on standardized tests in school districts across the country, the Education Department recently asked members of the public for ideas on how to prevent, detect and respond to irregularities on completed tests.

The idea is for the department to collect the information and share it with school districts around the country. Here’s a response just sent to the department by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the unfair use and misuse of tests.

Response to U.S. Department of Education Request for Information to Gather Technical Expertise Pertaining to Testing Integrity February 16, 2012

Over the past three academic years, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing has confirmed cases of standardized test cheating in 32 states and the District of Columbia (see attached list). The root cause of this epidemic is clear from in-depth investigations into some of the most egregious scandals. Misuse of standardized tests mandated by public officials has created a climate in which increasing numbers of educators feel they have no choice but to cross ethical lines.

If the U.S. Department of Education is serious about its commitment to assessment integrity, it must act to reduce test cheating by stopping promotion of test score misuse.

Despite their high-sounding statements about assessment reform, President Obama and Secretary Duncan are adding incentives for cheating by ratcheting up the emphasis on standardized exams scores through initiatives such as “Race to the Top” and their criteria for states to receive waivers from “No Child Left Behind.” The continued emphasis on annual high-stakes annual testing in these programs and, especially, new requirements to assess teachers based on their students’ scores virtually guarantees even more cheating will take place.

The administration’s favored policies also contradict the findings and recommendations of “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education,” the important report released last year by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science. That study’s distinguished panel of experts concluded that high-stakes testing has not improved educational quality.

Widespread cheating is an inevitable consequence of overuses of high-stakes testing, as predicted by renowned social scientist Donald Campbell. In 1976 he wrote in what is now called Campbell’s Law, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor. . . when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

Recent examinations of major outbreaks of cheating confirm the accuracy of Campbell’s prediction. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, the Governor’s Bureau of Investigation found that test score misuse was a major reason for why cheating occurred. They wrote, “The targets . . . were often unreasonable, especially given their cumulative effect over the years. Additionally, the administration put unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals to achieve targets. . . ultimately, the data and meeting ‘targets’ by whatever means necessary, became more important than true academic progress.”

In their report on the Dougherty County System, the Georgia Special Investigators identified similar causes. In the section titled “Why Cheating Occurred,” the investigators cite No Child Left Behind’s “pressure to meet AYP targets” as “a significant motivation for cheating” finding, “This pressure drives some individuals to cross ethical lines.” They concluded, “Since the enactment of NCLB, standardized testing has become more about measuring the teachers, principals and schools than accurately assessing the children’s academic progress.”

In terms of “best practices” for detecting and responding to testing irregularities, there is no need for a massive federal study. The reports by the Georgia Office of Special Investigators examining cheating in Atlanta area schools are a model for policy-maker response. A comprehensive review by independent law enforcement professionals — not politicians or bureaucrats who may have vested interests in protecting current policies and personnel — is necessary. Combined with the use of the full range of forensic detection tools — including analyses for high numbers of erasures, unusual score gains, and patterns of similar responses — this approach has proven most likely to root out the full truth.

More policing and better after-the-fact investigations will not, however, solve the many problems caused by the politically motivated misuses of standardized exam scores. Instead, high-stakes testing requirements must end because they cheat students out of a high-quality education and cheat the public out of accurate information about school quality.

by Bob Schaeffer


According to FairTest's records, in the past four school years one or more cheating cases have been documented in the following jurisdictions:

Arizona #

California #

Colorado #


District of Columbia #

Florida #

Georgia *

Indiana *







Michigan #





New Jersey *

New York *

North Carolina

Ohio #



Pennsylvania *

Rhode Island

South Carolina


Texas *




# Included in March 2011 USA Today/Gannett investigative series

* Multiple reports or apparent systematic pattern

Updated February 15, 2012 – Bob Schaeffer

[The following appeared as "How To Stop Cheating On Standardized Tests" in the Washington Post "The Answer Sheet" Blog (February 17, 2012). The blog is produced By Valerie Strauss. This iteration of it, along with the Fair Test notes, was forwarded to Substance by Bob Schaeffer of Fair Test (].


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach. -Aristotle

    by Hyde Park Johnny on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 05:30:03 AM PST

  •  Where the Cult of Rhee goes (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koosah, Tonedevil, Abelia

    cheating and cut corners to make the numbers on paper look better and better soon follows.

    I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party

    by LeftHandedMan on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 05:43:48 AM PST

  •  And the best way to end voter fraud is to (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, nextstep, KTinOhio, BachFan

    end voting?

  •  When I was in College (6+ / 0-)

    In the beginning of each class we took a ten to twenty question "pre-test". This was not included as part of your grade, but gave you an idea of what you would learn in the course, and how much you knew already. It also helped the professor decide where she needed to put emphasis as opposed to teaching things we already knew (as it was an occupational course and many of us if not most already had a medical background, there was naturally some overlap). She knew from day one who she had to make sure to spend extra time with, and who to team up those who were having trouble with to help them get it.
    Then on the last day of class we took the same test as a post-test. This was averaged in with every other test (I recall there was a slight emphasis on the grade, but not as high as the final). This test did two things, it showed how much we had learned and how effective her teaching had been. It took maybe 45 minutes for the slowest test takers to take.
    I think this system showed student growth and teacher effectiveness much more accurately than a test made up by someone not even in the same school let alone not teaching the course. There was also very little cheating going on, it wasn't high stakes enough, even from a student stand point, to warrant it.
    This is the model I wish public schools would follow.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 07:00:59 AM PST

  •  Why don't we just give every student an A and be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries, nextstep, BachFan

    done with it? It will surely eliminate all cheating.

    •  Obviously (4+ / 0-)

      you haven't dealt with "state standardized testing". I know in Florida the grading on it is so secretive they couldn't explain it to my in my son's IEP meeting other than a 3 is passing and assumed to be on grade level. When I asked what it means in regard to how my son is doing they said "We don't know, we've never understood it". When I asked how he could be on grade level on the FCAT but listed as below grade level on every report card, they couldn't explain that either.
      In other words, the standardized testing does NOT show how a child does throughout the year. There have been honor roll students who have flunked the FCAT. There have been failing students who've passed the FCAT.  There have  been outcries in this state when kids who worked hard all year and gotten good or at least decent grades who were then held back purely on the FCAT. And the kids are told this going in, that what they did the rest of the year doesn't matter only this. No child should be put under that kind of pressure. I don't think any adult should be put under that kind of pressure.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 07:44:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Because that would be... (0+ / 0-)

      the kind of overreaction an idiot would suggest.  Thank you for your suggestion.

      This makes about as much sense as Mike Huckabee on mescaline. - Prodigal 2-6-2008

      by Tonedevil on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 09:32:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Your answer assumes there is no cheating (0+ / 0-)

        on other tests.

        •  No, it assumes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          there is less cheating on a test that is seen as fair and not an all nothing result. State standardized testing is not fair, is not even understood by those taking it or those being judged by it, and is devastating if not passed to the student, teachers, and school.

          If you had a test for work, a competency test on a subject vital to your job, and were told "If you don't pass it we'll schedule some training hours, get you a mentor, and make sure you can understand it and pass the test in the future" how likely would you be to cheat?
          If you were given a test and told "If you pass it you'll continue to have a job, if you fail it, you're fired and your supervisor is fired, and their supervisor will get a pay cut." how likely would you be to cheat then? How likely would your boss and their boss be to cheat and skew the test results?

          And not just you, but people on average?

          "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

          by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 12:20:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  There are tons of high-stakes tests. SAT, all the (0+ / 0-)

            graduate/professional school tests, etc. Yeah, most of the time you can retake the test if you do badly and it won't have much (or any) effect on the final grade. The real problem is making it high stakes not only for students but also for teachers. There is a big difference in the ease of cheating for a person taking the test and for a person administering it.

            •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Tonedevil, FG

              that a huge part of the pressure came on when teachers and administrators had more pressure on them. And I doubt that most of the cheating is the students in this instance, I don't know how they even would cheat the way they are administered, not on their own.
              And yes, there are some high stakes tests for adults, but not the same way, not with the additional pressure of their supervisor's job and the entire company's existence relying on one test. And again, these are adults. Now put that burden on 1st graders.

              "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

              by FloridaSNMOM on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 01:56:47 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

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