Florida Schools Will Use ‘Honest Pledge’ to Reduce Cheating

Cheating on standardized tests by both students and teachers has been in the news for some time, and now Florida is trying to address the problem in a novel way. Before beginning their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or subject exams in Algebra 1, biology and geometry, students will be asked to sign an "honesty pledge," promising not to engage in any forbidden conduct in order to improve their test scores.

It says: "I agree that I will not give or receive unauthorized help during this test. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results."

Students will be asked to sign it or print their names before taking paper versions of the exams, or check a box under the pledge displayed on computer-based tests.

Cherie Boone, the manager of research, evaluation and assessment at the Palm Beach County School District says she doesn't expect the pledge to solve the problem of test cheating, but it does give the district an opportunity to clearly communicate the standards of behavior and its expectations to the students. The students will be allowed to opt out of signing the pledge for personal or religious reasons.

Last month, fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade classes signed the pledge before taking the writing portion of the FCAT. No concerns about it were reported to district administrators, Boone said.

Beginning Monday and covering two weeks: The schedule in Palm Beach and Broward counties includes reading exams for third through 10th grades; math exams for third through eighth grades; science for fifth and eighth; and makeup exams.

Since the start of 2012, news outlets like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have reported on test cheating scandals in states across the country including the incident in Philadelphia, where the principal encouraged employees to alter exam answer sheets, as well as in Herzog Elementary School in Missouri whose teachers received exam booklets in advance and were "encouraged" to prepare their students for the questions during the prior class periods as well as to change the answers after the exam was completed.

In the largest case of institutional cheating making the news last year, the Atlanta School District fired its superintendent Beverly L. Hall after it was uncovered that nearly half of the district's schools were under suspicion for interfering with test administration in order to raise their achievement ratings.

PSC (Professional Standards Commission) voted to revoke the teaching certificates of three administrators and to impose two-year suspensions on eight teachers. Some of the educators were from Parks Middle School, cited by state investigators as an egregious example of the test-cheating culture in Atlanta Public Schools.

The PSC took action against 11 educators implicated in the scandal last month and planned to have the approximately 190 remaining cases resolved by January.

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