USA Today continues its series on potential cheating on standardized tests in Washington, D.C by reporting that only 20 states regularly review test answer sheets for signs of erased and changed answers. A high number of such erasures might indicate cheating by teachers or school administrators. It was the statistical analysis of answer sheets that showed a high number of wrong-to-right erasures that uncovered cheating in Georgia. There are also ongoing investigations on potential testing improprieties in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
The USA Today survey found that this year nearly 45% of test sheets went unexamined for suspicious erasures. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, who does research for Arizona State University on standardized test cheating by teachers, called it “common sense” to analyze tests for irregularities:
“The more consequences you attach to the test, the more likely people are to do something artificial to inflate them.”
Jay Mathews, writing for the Washington Post, seems to agree. Decrying Washington D.C’s response to the USA Today’s allegations as “feeble,” he says that failure investigate irregularities can undermine standardized testing usefulness as a measuring tool of student achievement.
If the D.C. schools produce a deep investigation of what happened, and a few other states do what Georgia did — send experienced investigators into districts which show unusual erasures — we might see some progress on this issue. If not, the folks who don’t like standardized testing will be happy, because this kind of tampering is the death knell of that form of assessment.
New Mexico, one of the five states planning to subject answer sheets to right-to-wrong-erasure analysis this year, announced that the analysis will add $70,000 to the $2 million currently spent on testing.
Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, encouraged states to make the statistical analysis a mandatory part of the contract between the schools and the companies administering the tests.