Whether it’s throwing up on the test form or an innocent game of hangman on the margins, Nevada state officials responsible for standardized testing want to know about it as part of their accountability efforts. The Las Vegas Sun described in a Sept. 17 report how one teacher was required to turn in the actual test sheet a student vomited on to the state; the requirement has since been modified.
Trust is lacking when it comes to administration of state tests to school children, and it’s not always the children who get caught cheating. In June, the New York Times wrote about scandals in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Virginia where teachers were the ones doing the cheating on standardized tests. The most expansive evidence of teacher cheating was in Georgia where test score sheets at 191 schools were determined to have contained a statistically anomalous number of erasures reflecting correction of wrong answers. Eleven referrals to the teacher licensing authority had been made by the time the story was reported and more were expected to follow.
Well before No Child Left Behind mandated standardized state testing to determine school performance, the correlation between high-stakes test and cheating had been well established. Where the stakes rise, the cheating follows, Brian Jacobs, author of Rotten Apples, told CBS News in Oct. 2003. The news report detailed instances of high-stakes testing and teacher cheating back to 1999.
Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and former assistant secretary of education during the first Bush administration, said in a Mar. New Republic article that accountability pressures have caused “widespread gaming of the system. The cheating scandals are minor in her view compared to the ways states manipulate test scoring. She cited the experience of New York lowering the required percentage a student must achieve for a proficiency rating from 59.6 in 2006 to 44 in 2009. The change inflated the proficiency rate by some thirty percent.
In Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she posits the opinion that No Child Left Behind has in effect set a timetable for demolishing American public education. She pointed to discrepancies between results on National Assessment of Education Progress tests and standardized state tests as evidence that standardized testing, as it is currently in use, isn’t improving schools.
Are standardized tests worth the inevitable problems they cause? Can they actually measure teaching success? The populist opinion is no, according to sixty percent of 1164 respondents to a Sept. 2010 Care2 survey.
The experts are divided. CNN interviewed an expert on each side of the divide when NCLB was first proposed. The one thing both experts did agree on was that schools should not become test prep centers.