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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Cheating on standardized tests? State to keep closer watch

When Washington state switches to the new, Common Core tests in spring 2015, it will, for the first time, do the kind of post-test analyses that many experts recommend to detect any cheating, like the problems that have cropped up in Georgia and a number of other states.

On Wednesday, the Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Department of Education joined those urging all states to do such analyses, saying neglecting them would be a “missed opportunity to detect and prevent cheating.”

That recommendation was part of an audit of test security in five states:  Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. Here’s a report from Politico, and the full audit can be found here.

While Washington was not one of the states studied, it has been one of a declining number that don’t routinely do any post-test forensic analysis, such as looking for suspicious erasure patterns on answer sheets.

But that’s about to change, a spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said Wednesday.  When Washington starts using the new Common Core tests, he said, the state will also do forensic analyses that could detect potential problems at the state, district and school levels.

In the past, OSPI officials have said they didn’t need to spend time and money on such post-test analyses because they were confident suspicious activity would be reported to them. But the spokesman said it’s much less expensive to do forensic analysis on the Common Core exams, so the state plans to ask its testing contractor to do so.

It’s not yet clear how much or what type of analysis will be done, but it could include looking for unusually high numbers of answers changed from wrong to right, the spokesman said. The details will be worked out in the contract of the testing company the state hires.

One other very interesting note from the federal audit: The Inspector General says the U.S. Department of Education noticed big jumps in test scores in Georgia, but never asked the state about it.

Georgia is one of a number of states where cheating scandals have emerged in recent years.  Reports about Atlanta’s public schools, reported by The Atlanta Journal Constitution, led to indictments of nearly three dozen Atlanta educators and former Superintendent Beverly Hall.

“Had the Department required an explanation for why the State of Georgia’s test data fell outside the anticipated ranges,” the audit said, “indicators of potential cheating on statewide tests in the State of Georgia might have been detected sooner.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: cheating, common core, standardized tests


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