The newspaper surveyed the 50 state education departments and found that many states do not use basic test security measures designed to prevent cheating. And nearly half the states, the newspaper found, make almost no attempt to screen test results for irregularities.
That kind of lax oversight contributed to the cheating scandal that swept Atlanta schools in 2009, the newspaper said in a story that appeared online Saturday. Evidence of widespread cheating is now emerging in Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, El Paso, Texas, and other cities around the country. The Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that it had found patterns of suspicious changes in test scores in nearly 200 school districts nationwide.
The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law 10 years ago, made standardized testing the cornerstone of national education policy. But it offered little direction on test security.
“To spend all this money and all this energy on testing, and the one area where we haven’t devoted the same energy is standardizing the administration of the test to deter cheating,” said Wayne Camara, vice president of research at The College Board, which administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. “To have better or standardized procedures would limit opportunities for cheating.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview that test security is the purview of state and local officials.
“So much of this is best done with thoughtful leaders at the state level, not a new complicated federal bureaucracy,” Duncan said. “I don’t think anyone wants a national testing police.”
The Journal-Constitution’s survey — which elicited responses from 47 states — reveals wildly inconsistent practices around the country. Some states require outside investigations of cheating in school districts, but most states permit districts to investigate themselves. Some states look for radical changes in scores from year to year, but most don’t. Slightly more than half send out independent monitors to oversee testing, while at least 19 do not.
And the motivation to cheat could increase as more states and districts tie teacher evaluations, bonuses and pay to test results.
“If you think there’s cheating now under school accountability, wait until what you see under teacher accountability,” said Scott Marion, associate director at the Center for Assessment, a not-for-profit firm that works with about 30 states to develop tests and teacher accountability systems.