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UPDATED: Report: cheating on standardized tests in 75 percent of U.S. states

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing issued a report Thursday that tallies cases of cheating on standardized tests in 37 states across the country, including notable cases in Southern California.

The manipulation hurts the most needy students, said he center’s president, Bob Shaeffer: “Most of the most significant cases of cheating have occurred in low income communities where students have historically had the lowest test scores.”

Students have been found to take smart-phone photos of tests and forward them to fellow students. A lot of cheating, though, is done by teachers and principals, many under pressure to get high test scores, Shaeffer said. The group’s report documents more than 50 ways schools manipulated test results to inflate their test scores.

Here are the typical violations:

- Encourage teachers to view upcoming test forms before they are administered.
- Exclude likely low-scorers from enrolling in school.
- Drill students on actual upcoming test items.
- Use thumbs-up/thumbs-down signals to indicate right and wrong responses.
- Erase erroneous responses and insert correct ones.
- Report low-scorers as having been absent on testing day.

“Is the percentage that we see the whole iceberg or just the very tip?” Shaeffer asked.

Schools from Oakland to Los Angeles have been implicated in testing "irregularities," as the California Department of Education labels cheating.

With more than 10,000 schools, Education Department Spokesman Paul Hefner said there is invariably some cheating going on.

“There are any numbers of ways where, either on purpose or accidentally, folks can undermine the integrity of standardized tests," Hefner said. "It’s an unfortunate truth.”

California is taking the steps necessary to make sure the tests are valid and reliable, Hefner said. He pointed to an investigation of a sample of all tests to look for erased test sheets – a sign that answers may have been changed by teachers – and to whistleblower reporting. In the 2012–13 academic year, California officials stripped 26 schools of their Academic Performance Index score because of testing irregularities.

One of the most egregious cheating cases involved a group of Southern California public schools. In 2011, the L.A. Unified School District revoked the charter for six campuses run by Crescendo Schools after investigations revealed that principals had given teachers copies of standardized tests not yet given to students. The message: make sure the students get good scores. The closures left teachers out of a job and 1,400 students scrambling to find a new school.

Crescendo officials did not end up behind bars for orchestrating the cheating. That may not be the case for public school administrators in Atlanta.

Shaeffer’s group is keeping a close eye on cheating allegations involving 44 public schools there

The California Department of Education believes that as this state and others shift to computerized tests that are part of the shift to Common Core standards, cheating will be left behind in the dustbin of the analog age.

The shift from paper and pencil to computerized tests, “doesn’t eliminate opportunities for cheating,” watchdog Shaeffer said, “it just changes the technology people will use to cheat.”

In California those new computerized tests are expected to be in place for the 2014-15 school year.


On Friday a Grand Jury in Atlanta indicted dozens of educators for their alleged involvement in a high profile test cheating scandal in the city's public schools. The Grand Jury indicted former Superintendent Beverly Hall, other school district administrators, and teachers. Hall faces charges of racketeering, making false statements, and theft.

The indictments are the result of a 2011 Georgia investigation that found 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools had cheated on state tests. Manipulation included changing answers and giving students answers to the test. Georgia, like many other states, rewards schools and teachers when their students score well on standardized tests.

Shaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing said federal and state requirements are partly to blame when educators cheat.

"The pressures from No Child Left Behind and state accountability rules create a situation in which many educators feel they have to boost scores by hook or by crook," he said. "And as in any profession, the more you ratchet up pressure, the more people crack ethically."