Cheaters prosper

When test scores seem too good to believe they probably are, concludes a USA Today story on cheating on standardized tests.

Tip-offs: The same cohort of students earn very low scores in one grade, very high scores in the next grade and very low scores in the following grade. Or, investigators look for an unusually large number of erasures with nearly all answers changed to the correct one.

In an Arizona State survey, more than half of teachers admitted to some form of cheating. Among 19 ways to cheat, they listed erasing incorrect answers and filling in correct ones, telling students to redo answers,  giving students extra time and peeking at test questions in advance by “tubing” sealed exams.

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    If you want to get very depressed, you might want to read this:

  2. Sometimes, in my bleaker moods, I think maybe we should just shut down all the schools and universities for a generation. Let the people learn to read from their parents, or from other concerned adults. Then start up schools again in some different sort of way, at a time when people might actually appreciate it. (What would the teachers and professors do to earn their bread during that generation? I don’t know. That’s the missing step)

    The problem, of course, is that grades are no longer merely a mark of how much you learned; they are what are of paramount importance. As a result, there are always people willing to use whatever means to get to the desired end.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    The USA Today article is extraordinary, with principal after principal explaining away scores that go up three standard deviations for an entire grade, then go back down again the next year. Norma Perez, one of these principals, says her school’s third graders’ jump from the 17th percentile to the 85th percentile was due to “optimism and hard work” and a team of “incredibly dedicated teachers.” I guess, then, that the fourth grade teachers at her school are lazy, pessimistic and uninterested, because those wonder kids’ scores dropped right back down.

    Are those principals completely innumerate, or do they just think we are? I could imagine some explanation other than cheating for these improbably high scores– maybe the test was graded wrong, maybe for one year the GATE magnet school was closed and all the GATE students took the test, something like that– but there’s no way those scores reflected the actual abilities of the students (so there’s nothing to take credit for), and cheating remains by far the most plausible explanation. When a principal defends the scores, she makes me believe she’s in on the fraud.

    That reminds me– remember Jaime Escalante in southern California? In the movie Stand and Deliver, about his AP Calculus class in his Latino school, the students are unjustly accused of cheating by the heartless College Board. In real life, the real students now admit they did cheat.

  4. J. D. Salinger says:

    In real life, the real students now admit they did cheat. Nine students were later found to be caught cheating. Some of these nine, along with the rest of the class retook the AP calculus test and passed.

  5. Barry Garelick says:

    With respect to the Cannell paper on the Lake Woebegone effect referenced above, there “is a point-counterpoint” between Cannell and others at the NonPartisan Education Review website. Go here, and scroll to the bottom, and you’ll see it listed.

  6. I dunno… after reading the article in the Arizona Republic this Sunday, I find it hard to believe so many of these kids improved so dramatically in one year… then seemingly forgot everything the next. But apparently, it was due to quality teaching – at least the raising of the AIMS (Arizona’s standardized test). I don’t know what caused the sores to go down… This is according to Lisa Graham Keegan, our former Secretary of Education anyway… *sigh* Naaahh… it couldn’t be cheating….

  7. Peace Corps says:

    I read the articles at The comments on security are laughable if other states are like mine. All the security is getting the tests to the sites and from the sites. Once at the school a person is responsible for the security of the tests, and will sign a form stating that the tests were secure at all times. That person works for the school district. The tests are usually given to teachers to administer the tests. Most frequently (based on conversations with other teachers from many different districts, but all in my general geographic area of the state) the math teachers give the math tests, the English teachers give the literacy tests, and the science teachers give the science tests. Does it have to be this way? No. Then why do it this way. Seems idoitic, and it gives opportunity for cheating that could easily be avoided.

  8. Exactly. Why are teachers giving the tests in the first place? Teachers should take three days off; classified (not certificated) staff and subs should proctor the tests.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal and Peace Corps are right that teachers– who have a financial interest in their students doing well– should definitely not be giving the tests, seeing the tests, having custody of the tests or being near the tests. Seemingly, school principals shouldn’t be involved either, judging by the school principals who, in the face of overwhelming evidence of fraud, deny that their teachers/students cheated.