About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Bruno: Low-Stakes Test Cheating

3352100979_e406d87eabThe cheating scandal in Atlanta has generated a lot of debate in education circles. Some of that debate has become unfortunately bogged down in the acrimonious and distracting topic of who is "to blame" for the cheating, but there has also been a lot of useful reflection on policy implications of the scandal.

It is probably safe to say that raising the stakes of standardized tests - by, for example, evaluating teachers or schools based on the results - increases the incentive to cheat and therefore makes cheating more likely.

This isn't an indictment of the collective integrity of teachers, it's an almost tautological description of the way incentives work.

Still, the relationship between cheating and the stakes of the test is probably not quite that simple.

Consider this list of dozens of ways that adults "cheat" before, during, and after the administration of standardized tests posted by Valerie Strauss's Washington Post blog. 

It's hard to say exactly how prevalent they are - how often do teachers "leave class unattended during testing"? - but my experience suggests that these test manipulations are much more commonly employed during the administration of lower-stakes assessments.

While the details vary from case to case, district- or school-level assessments often have extremely low security. Such tests are frequently distributed to teachers well before test administration, for example, and teachers may think nothing of giving students "similar" questions to practice before the test.

Of course, there are plenty of incentives to "cheat" (if you want to call it that) on, say, a district interim assessment; teachers and schools naturally want to "look good" when analyzing the results.

Still, these tests are clearly lower-stakes than the state tests that are the focus of the occasional scandal, so if I'm right about how often teachers manipulate the results that suggests that even the relatively cursory security measures in place during state testing successfully prevent a lot of "cheating".

Optimistically, that should encourage us to think that cheating on high stakes tests is a manageable problem.

On the other hand, it's not clear who has the right incentives to want to further tighten security. As the most recent development in the Michelle Rhee/DC cheating scandal illustrates, very few officials are eager to reveal test score gains in their jurisdictions as illusory. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Interesting article. I think it so stupid for teacher's to put their job in jeopardy. This is being lazy only to get the students out of their class. If you pass them by giving them a free handout then they weren't learn anything. When they get to college they wont know what the hell happened because you can make a F student to a B student just by changing the answers!

It's not smart idea to find ways to help children cheat on test or try finding ways make themselves look good. If the teacher really cared about their job and the students. The teacher will work ten times harder to get them understand the material. To many children are graduating from high school and don’t even know the proper way to study for test. Then the children start college and expect their professors treat them the same way as their high school teacher who handicapped them and didn’t prepare them for the real world.

Being a teacher and thinking cheating to get by is just ridiculous. A teachers job is just that..to "teach". If teachers/administrators become that worried about teacher and school evaluations based off these tests, then they should make it an effort from the beginning to do whats right. They should teach and instill whatever needs to be taught to these students in order for the students to pass these tests on their own.

Why not just be a fun and engaging teacher. Students tend to learn more when the teacher is lively, upbeat and engaging with their students. Creating fun hands-on group projects and having "round table" discussions about "yesterdays" homework assignment or material is important to help students learn and grow. No one likes a lazy boring teacher that tells students to read chapters 10 and 11 and lectures about nonsense. We need amazing teachers in schools.

Whenever money is tied into results that are not supervised by an party, you increase the rate of cheating;

There has to be a better way forward. We are always more apt to do something drastic when we are faced with the possibility of losing our jobs. No one performs well under the threat of termination. The criteria used to determine whether or not a teacher is performing well at there job cannot be centered around the performance of the student during a particular period of time. We must go back to the drawing board and work collectively with teachers, parents, and school boards to determine a better way forward. Until then people will find ways to dodge bullets even if its to the detriment of the child.

Teacher's should do the right thing all the time. When cheating occurs,it only affects the children.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.