FairTest Tells Duncan Not to Promote Test Score Incentives

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) is urging the Department of Education to stop promoting standardized exam score incentives that encourage some educators to cheat.

In a statement, FairTest said:

“If the U.S. Department of Education is serious about its commitment to assessment integrity, it must act to reduce test cheating by stopping promotion of test score misuse.”

The statement has come in response to a call by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who asked for public advice on how to improve assessment integrity and curb cheating.

“Despite their high-sounding statements about assessment reform, President Obama and Secretary Duncan are adding incentives for cheating by ratcheting up the emphasis on standardized exams scores through initiatives such as ‘Race to the Top’ and their criteria for states to receive waivers from ‘No Child Left Behind’.

“The continued emphasis on annual high-stakes annual testing in these programs and, especially, new requirements to assess teachers based on their students’ scores virtually guarantees even more cheating will take place.”

FairTest has investigated various causes of test cheating, and has identified high-stakes testing as a root cause of cheating.

A report by the Georgia Office of Special Investigators labeled No Child Left Behind‘s “pressure to meet AYP targets” as “a significant motivation for cheating.”

The investigators concluded:

“This pressure drives some individuals to cross ethical lines.

“Since the enactment of NCLB, standardized testing has become more about measuring the teachers, principals and schools than accurately assessing the children’s academic progress.”

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer added:

“Widespread cheating is an inevitable consequence of overuses of high-stakes testing.”

This falls in line with Campbell’s Law principle that points out the negative consequences of high-stakes testing in U.S. classrooms.

As Campbell’s Law predicts:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.  . . when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

While praising the quality of independent investigations of cheating in Atlanta and elsewhere, FairTest concluded:

“More policing and better after-the-fact investigations will not, however, solve the many problems caused by the politically motivated misuses of standardized exam scores. Instead, high-stakes testing requirements must end because they cheat students out of a high-quality education and cheat the public out of accurate information about school quality.”