Cheating and Errors Continue

K-12 Testing

Reports of cheating and testing errors continue to accumulate across the nation in parallel with the increase in testing volume and pressures to improve scores (see Examiner, Spring-Summer 2004).


School administrators, lacking access to the anti-cheating spell used on Harry Potter’s Hogwarts classmates, are resorting to other responses to outbreaks of test cheating by teachers and students:


• Nevada legislators voted to spend $44,000 to hire a state employee to find ways to curb cheating. The expense was justified by reports that students used camera cell phones and wristwatch calculators to cheat on state high school exams, with 24 instances of cheating reported in 2003-04. This was an increase of 300 percent from the previous year. A state report found 65 percent of 121 irregularities in 2003-04, including cheating, were the fault of educators responsible for test oversight.
• Nine Arizona school districts decided to nullify part of their 2003-04 spring test results, after charges teachers read sections of tests to students or gave them extra time. In one district, students were allegedly given up to three days to write essays that were meant to be completed in one sitting.
• A California teacher admired for his dedication to students confessed in July that he changed students’ answers on tests because he was certain they knew the material. Babatunde Akinremi resigned in June. He had been praised as a hard-working, caring teacher who came in early, stayed late, and helped students with algebra rather than take a lunch break. As a result of the cheating incident, the school’s ability to show that it had made “Adequate Yearly Progress,” as required by No Child Left Behind, was put in doubt.


Testing Errors Mount
The spectacle of teachers and students cheating on tests confirms that humans are subject to ethical lapses under extreme pressure. But the notion that tests themselves are infallible, reliable and objective indicators runs up against the reality that a growing number of testing errors have taken a toll on the lives of students and teachers:


• Test maker CTB/McGraw-Hill apologized in August 2004 for having accidentally destroyed 1,070 test booklets before they were graded, representing half of Wyoming County, West Virginia's, results.
• Connecticut also found fault with CTB/McGraw-Hill, imposing a fine of $300,000, the maximum allowed, for scoring delays and errors. Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg said more problems will not be tolerated. “They understand if they don’t meet one deadline ... the guillotine falls, if you will,” she said. Of course, most of the other national testing companies have also experienced serious failures.
• After a series of costly errors over the course of several years, the Nevada State Board of Education fired Harcourt Educational Measurement and voted to give a $13.4 million contract to Measured Progress, a Concord, NH, firm.
• In Oregon, high school math test results were disregarded after 80 percent of sophomores failed in 2003-04, up from 50 percent in prior years. School officials said the results showed the test was too hard.