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NCLB Outrages

Schools Under Scrutiny Over Cheating

Ohanian Comment: Does anyone really believe that states lack the ability to track cheating patterns? Or that testing companies lack this ability? What we see here is the modern update of the ancient 3 monkeys maxim about evil. Today, the maximum doesn't mean what it meant in the Analects of Confucius: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety." Today, it means to turn a willful blind eye to what is wrong.

That said, I wonder what I would do in face of the current worship of test scores; I wonder what I would do if I knew the bureaucrats would be moving in to shut down my school and move in the privatizers--if my students' test scores didn't go up.

Cheating is not the answer. Revolution is the answer:

  • Don't drink the tea.

  • Don't ride on the bus.

  • Don't administer or take the test.

  • By Ford Fessenden

    AT a time when the pressure to do well on standardized tests in public schools creates incentives to cheat, states are just beginning to look for the patterns that betray it.

    While there is nothing new about cheating, in the last year state officials say teachers or administrators on Long Island and in New Jersey and Westchester have tried to improve their schoolsâ standings using methods that were ultimately easy to detect. But no one was looking systematically.

    New Jersey has since begun flagging big changes in scores at individual schools, and New York is considering such a measure. But unlike some other states, neither New York, New Jersey nor Connecticut looks systematically at individual tests for the kinds of patterns that ultimately confirmed the cheating in Yonkers and Uniondale.

    In Camden, a large improvement in scores at two schools in 2005 â one schoolâs fourth-grade math test scores rocketed from near the bottom to the very top in the state in one year â went unnoticed by the state until The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the matter last year. The state eventually said the scores resulted from âadult interference.â

    In Yonkers, erasures on last yearâs state-mandated English examination that changed the same wrong answers on test after test at four elementary schools were found only after an anonymous whistleblower pointed them out to the State Department of Education.

    And in Uniondale on Long Island, someone altered an entire column of answers on hundreds of math tests in 2006, substituting right answers for wrong ones. The state discovered a pattern to the substitutions while looking at how well the district was doing in specific subject areas, but the cheating, state officials said, had been going on for some time; the investigation showed a similar pattern in 2005.

    No one has been charged in any of the cheating cases. But they have provoked some changes in how test results are examined and may lead to more.

    After the revelations in Camden, New Jersey instituted a simple screening of test results that would flag any school whose score changed beyond what was statistically likely. New York authorities are considering some kind of screening.

    None of the states take advantage of computers to look for patterns of changes of the sort that made the Yonkers and Uniondale cheating easy to prove once the state was alerted to them.

    âThe question is: Is what happened in Yonkers and Uniondale very isolated, or is it indeed more prolific than we think it might be?â said Roger B. Tilles, of the New York State Board of Regents. âWe donât know, because we donât have the resources to detect it.â

    Thomas M. Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has conducted numerous studies on cheating, said, âAnyone with half a brain could cleverly cheat and never get caught, but teachers and administrators know the state and the districts have no oversight.â

    The testing mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law creates consequences, including the closing of schools and the reassigning of teachers and administrators, when its standards are not met. Because the groups that suffer consequences are also charged with test security, Dr. Haladyna said he thought cheating was âepidemic.â

    But state and local officials say that they believe cheating is rare. âMalevolent behavior is a small subset,â said Jay Doolan, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education.

    In Connecticut, William Congero, the director of student assessment, agreed. âWeâre certainly aware of the kinds of things that can happen,â he said, âbut we believe the test examiners are honest and donât take part in this.â

    In New York, the number of complaints of cheating by teachers has increased, to 37 in the 2005-6 school year from 22 in 2004-5. But state officials point to the number of cases that were verified, 12, which is down from 16 in the previous year, and say they see no cause for alarm.

    âWeâre not going to deny weâve seen some actions from bad actors in the field,â said David M. Abrams, the assistant commissioner for standards, assessment and reporting for the New York State Department of Education. But, he said, âWe donât believe cheating is widespread.â

    In Uniondale, a Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services analyst who was examining performance on each question on state exams to find weaknesses in instruction found the cheating pattern: very high scores by all students on the last few questions of math tests, but mediocre scores on the earlier ones.

    The pattern existed on five different tests â two regents examinations, a middle school test and two grade school tests. Once lined up question by question, the pattern was obvious and corresponded on some tests to the last column of answers, which had been systematically changed.

    Mr. Tilles has begun pressuring the New York New Yorkpartment of Education to screen all schools for such patterns, but Mr. Abrams said the department had not decided what to do. âWe are looking at ways to apply large-scale statistical analyses,â he said.

    New Jersey has begun screening tests using a simple mathematical equation that measures the change in scores at a school from year to year. Some districts were asked to explain sudden changes, but none are suspected of cheating, said Mr. Doolan, the assistant commissioner.

    Some states have taken further measures. California and Ohio automatically screen all tests for suspicious erasures.

    âThe states should be doing this simply because they have the technology to do it,â said Robert Tobias, director of the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at New York University and a former head of testing for New York City schools. âWith the high-speed computers and the advanced psychometrics, one can actually do this fairly quickly and identify places where there appear to be anomalies.â

    — Ford Fessenden
    New York Times


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