‘Trust, but verify’ on K-12 testsCongratulations to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for quickly following up on news that test-score patterns in certain districts may have indicated cheating.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
Congratulations to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for quickly following up on news that test-score patterns in certain districts may have indicated cheating.
That’s more than some states and school districts have done.
Weeks ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution flagged districts around the country where test scores had moved in suspicious ways — say, classes whose scores jumped in fourth grade, then plummeted in fifth.
In many districts around the country, officials tried to explain away the changes. But officials in Atlanta had offered the same explanations a few years ago, after the paper had uncovered the same odd testing patterns there. Then, a state investigation followed up and uncovered the biggest cheating scandal in American history — one that featured teachers and principals holding “Eraser Parties” to change students’ wrong answers to right.
In North Dakota, Bismarck and Fargo were listed among the 196 districts nationwide whose test scores indicated a high probability of cheating, according to the Journal-Constitution’s report. But “the Department of Public Instruction conducted an initial investigation and found nothing that suggested cheating, said Greg Gallagher, the department’s director of standards and achievement,” The Associated Press recently reported.
“However, the state will continue to work with the Center of Assessment, a national organization that helps states design and implement effective testing, for the next few weeks to make a final determination.”
Not all states responded the same straightforward way.
“Other districts said they know there’s no cheating in their schools, and there’s no reason to look for any,” the Journal-Constitution recently reported in a follow-up to its earlier story.
For example, “Nashville officials told local reporters that despite the Journal-Constitution’s suggestion of suspect scores, cheating doesn’t happen in their schools. Officials said the newspaper’s methodology was flawed, and they don’t intend to investigate.”
This head-in-the-sand attitude won’t wash — and going forward, both North Dakota and Minnesota must guard against it, as well.
That’s because the indicators developed by the Atlanta newspaper are powerful and effective tools. They may not be foolproof; and if North Dakota investigators have looked with care at the results here and determined no cheating has taken place, that’s that.
But school officials must not simply assume that all testing is on the level, as the Nashville district apparently did. The better way is to remember Ronald Reagan’s advice: Trust, but verify.
Trust that most students and teachers are honest and trying to do the right thing. But verify that the rules are being followed: Double-check IDs for students (as the SAT and ACT college-entrance tests now are going to do, burned as they were by a cheating scandal of their own). And monitor test results for suspicious patterns to keep an eye on teachers and principals.
So: “A bill was recently introduced in the Missouri Legislature to require the state’s Department of Education to look for testing irregularities,” the Journal-Constitution recently reported. Likewise, Washington’s Education Department hopes “to conduct erasure analysis this year. The department made its request shortly after the AJC published its analysis.”
These days, test results matter for the student and teacher alike. Test administrators should remember that, and act accordingly.