US Education Dept. Acts on Cheating in Tests

The US Education Department has become so worried about continuing cheating scandals in schools across the country that it has issued a public request for information about practices to prevent and detect cheating by schools and other irregularities in standardised tests. It also announced an expert symposium on best practices to reduce cheating.

The Department intends to use the information collected to facilitate further dialogue and to help state and local education authorities to identify, share, and implement best practices for preventing, detecting, and investigating irregularities in standardised tests.

The announcement comes on top of an ongoing investigation of cheating in over 100 schools in Washington DC, cheating allegations in a number of schools in California, New York and Pennsylvania, and another cheating scandal in the state of Georgia involving 49 principals and teachers in 11 schools.

Last year, an investigation launched by the Governor of Georgia found nearly 200 principals and teachers in Atlanta had cheated on the state’s standardised tests. Seventy-eight percent of teachers and principals in 44 of the city’s 56 public schools examined were found to have cheated on the tests. The report found a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” in Atlanta schools that forced teachers to give students answers during tests and change wrong answers after the tests were completed.

The US Department of Education is concerned that continued cheating incidents are undermining the accuracy and reliability of school performance data. It says that the valid and reliable data on student performance is essential in informing teaching, identifying professional development needs, helping ensure meaningful accountability, and implementing effective education reforms. Its request for information states:

Even the slightest appearance of impropriety in the test administration process can undermine State accountability systems – painstakingly built over the past decade – and damage the credibility of reform efforts underway across the country.

The request for information asks a number of questions regarding the prevention, detection and investigation of testing irregularities.

Information requested on the prevention of testing irregularities includes evidence on best practices and policies adopted by education authorities, general lessons learned from them, barriers to their adoption, and what controls are most effective in preventing testing irregularities. It also requests information on the role played by school culture in ensuring test security, including how professional development has been used to train school officials to prepare students for the tests and whether the consequences for misconduct during the testing process has been clearly communicated to school officials.

Information requested on detecting test irregularities includes the methods used to detect irregularities and evidence about best practices and policies.

Information requested on the investigation of irregularities include contractual provisions made by authorities in their assessment contracts to help detect irregularities, best practices for investigating irregularities, and barriers to effective investigation. The Department has also asked for information on whether educators are subject to standards of professional conduct, laws, or regulations that dictate the type of sanctions that might be imposed on those who violate the law.

The Department will publish a document that contains a summary of the recommendations developed from the information to be provided and resources identified by experts participating in the symposium.

The process should be closely monitored by education departments in Australia and the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. They would be well advised to follow the lead of the US Department of Education before cheating becomes as pervasive as it is in the US.

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