States Investigating Test Fraud

K-12 Testing
The ever-expanding list of test cheating cases demonstrates the extent to which the unfair high stakes testing regimes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and state-mandated exams are pushing teachers into unethical behavior. Among the states with instances of cheating are New York, New Jersey, Texas and Ohio. And even in the slow season between rounds of testing and scoring, errors such as one in Illinois, continue to surface.


New Jersey officials have flagged 40 schools with unusual scores on its 2006 state tests. The scrutiny is meant to stem cheating on the heels of an investigation by the state into ‘adult interference' on 2005 exams in Camden and an expose by the Philadelphia Inquirer which uncovered regular patterns of cheating in that community going back 10 years. On the recent round of tests, state officials looked for schools with scores that increased or decreased between 20 to 40 percentage points from the previous year. The schools which fell within that range must now explain why their students showed such dramatic changes. In Camden, 2006 score averages plummeted by nearly 70 percentage points after the state sent monitors to oversee security following the 2005 cheating allegations. A grand jury is looking into the 2005 allegations as well as spending and bonuses received by former Camden Superintendent Annette D. Knox. The district is also investigating allegations that a principal and guidance counselor tampered with student academic records.


New York officials have confirmed test tampering on last year's English Language Arts tests given in Yonkers. The state contracted with a test security firm after receiving an anonymous letter from a teacher alleging irregular erasures and answers not in students' handwriting on the tests. Over a six month period, nearly 5000 tests were examined. Many were found to have abnormally high instances of incorrect answers being erased and correct answers being entered. Several of the principals in suspect schools have retired since the inquiry began. For this year's tests, tighter security will be in place including ending the practice of allowing teachers to hand-score the tests before turning them over to district officials.


Texas officials have cleared nearly 600 of the 700 schools under suspicion of cheating on the 2005 TAKS test. While 105 schools remain under investigation, state officials say the fact that the schools were investigated and cleared is evidence that the state's testing system is working as it should. Some observers questioned the thoroughness of the investigation, which took place more than a year after the allegations surfaced. During the investigation, only 65 schools received on-site visits. The remaining 635 were asked to complete a questionnaire about test security measures. Suspicion first arose in May of 2006 when a test security firm reviewed the results of the 2005 TAKS tests and flagged 700 schools for such reasons as scores jumping too quickly, answer sheets with too many erasures, or answer sheet patterns indicating copying. The state is considering recommendations on future test security and the issue of cheating, but it is uncertain whether the 2006 results will be reviewed as thoroughly as the 2005 test.


Ohio may be facing an increase in cheating by teachers, including copying tests to use as ‘study guides', tipping students off when they have incorrect answers, or giving correct answers. A Columbus Dispatch analysis of 28 school districts found at least 15 with instances of cheating. The state said 12 districts were under investigation. Among teachers breaking rules and helping students on tests, many do not feel that they were acutally cheating. Rather, they "Just want kids to do their best." said Judy Wray, who retired from her eighth grade teaching position after an investigation found she photocopied a state test to use as a study guide for her students. She claimed the problem is more widespread than anyone knows. While the state won't provide hard data, records show that teachers caught breaking testing rules face harsh penalties. Most lost their teaching licence for a time, and some lost their jobs. Among 14 districts that had verified "security breaches," one teacher was fired, six resigned or retired, and many were officially reprimanded. Districts also have faced such penalties as having exam scores invalidated, a particular hardship to some students since the test is a graduation requirement.


Test errors also continue

Illinois officials are concerned about a Boilingbrook schoolfailing to make average yearly progress under No Child Left Behind because of 39 missing tests. It is the latest in a series of problems plaguing Illinois, following delays in the administration of the ISAT, the state exams after Harcourt Assessments delivered tests late or sent the wrong materials to schools. Harcourt's errors led the state to switch to Pearson Educational Measurement for the printing, delivery and scoring of future ISATS.