Errors and Cheating Allegations Proliferate

K-12 Testing

Across the nation, allegations of cheating and errors in exam construction, administration and scoring continue to proliferate, undermining confidence in the reliability of high stakes testing.


In September, Pearson Educational Measurement Inc. offered five Virginia high school seniors $5000 college scholarships after incorrect scoring cost them their dilomas. Errors were made in scoring 60 exams given this summer. Pearson recently took over the development, administration and scoring of Virginia's Standards of Learning test. Previously the contract was held by Harcourt. Under Harcourt, the state's tests had a history of scoring errors. Pearson also has a long history of errors in other states, including incorrectly flunking 8,000 Minnesota students in 2000, resulting in a $7 million settlement, and incorrectly scoring 410,000 exams in Washington state in 1999.


For the third time in four years, North Carolina officials have scrapped or recalculated results of their ABC school-testing system. A problem with the formulas used to measure student progress resulted in improbably low scores on the 2005 sixth grade reading test. A new formula is in place for next year and the Governor is calling for an outside audit.


Illinois threw out all of the answers on one of three reading passages on the 2005 fifth-grade reading test. One hundred teachers watching the scoring of 2004 tests had inadvertently seen materials for the still-unadministered 2005 test. The passage was one that inner-city and low-income students could relate to better than the other passages according to Barbara Radner of DePaul University. In Chicago, the only scores not to improve were on the fifth grade reading test. An analysis is under way to see if the omitted answers would have made a difference in the students scores.


Other testing and grading errors around the country included two Lee County Florida Schools possibly losing $350,000 in bonuses after FCAT exams taken by students were mailed to the wrong scoring company in the wrong state. Had the scores been properly delivered the pair of schools could have met the criteria for an AA rating rather the AB they received from the state that caused them to miss out on the bonuses. New York officials released a new, more lenient scoring chart for the state's Math B exam after it was discovered that the test was more difficult than it should have been. This is the third time such an error has occurred on the same test. In Mississippi, 3,600 students will have the chance to retake the English 2 portion of the state's computer-administered exit exam after widespread problems during its administration. Computers locked up, potential answers were not properly displayed and students were suddenly switched from one test section to another.


In New York, Isben Jeundy, a Long Island Assistant Superintendent, was charged with official misconduct by police after his son, a sophomore in another district, was caught with crib notes matching answer sheets for which his father was responsible.

Richmond Virginia Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman is seeking to dismiss employees at the Oak Grove Elementary School following a state report on problems with the administration of the states Standards of Learning tests. The principal allegedly instructed proctors to grant all students accommodations that are meant only for those with certain learning disabilities. The report also found instances of markings in test booklets not made by the students and cases of faculty members Apointing to items students had answered incorrectly in the test booklets and pointing to correct answers. The state plans to closely monitor SOL administration at the school for the coming year.


In Massachusetts officials are concerned about the rising number of students caught cheating on the MCAS exam after reported incidents nearly doubled in 2005. Students were caught exchanging answers verbally, using cell phones and text messages, and referring to crib sheets. Parents and educators fear that as testing pressure increases under NCLB, instances of cheating will increase dramatically.


State officials in Texas have turned to a private company to investigate allegations of cheating after a newspaper investigation discovered evidence of educators assisting students on the state's TAKS exams (see Examiner, Winter 2005).