PUBLIC demand for improved performance from local schools in the
United States is putting pressure on school districts to find ways
to raise scores on standardized achievement tests.
These tests frequently are the only barometers for measuring how
well pupils are doing in school. As a result, they also have come to
signal how well teachers are teaching and ultimately how effectively
public schools are educating.
In some cases this is leading to cheating by school personnel.
A teacher in Rochester, N.Y., who requested anonymity, says that
in the last three years, the pressure on teachers in her school to
produce high test scores has grown tremendously. She has been given
an answer key along with tests, she says, adding that this never
used to happen. Some veteran teachers have vowed to do whatever it
takes to have good results; rookies have been reduced to tears
because of the pressure, she says.
"It's very demoralizing and confusing. It pits teacher against
teacher. No one knows what the standard is. Some teachers read the
problems to students," she says.
Observers say the problem has developed because the stakes have
grown so high. "All the pressure has built up because these tests
are one of few indicators we have of how well kids are doing in
school," says Walter Haney, senior research associate at the Center
for the Study of Testing at Boston College.
"We use test results from everything from diagnosing students'
individual deficiencies, to holding teachers accountable, to holding
schools accountable. You can't use it for all those purposes without
it serving some of them not well at all."
Cheating ranges from alteration of answers by teachers or
principals, to giving teachers the questions ahead of time to "teach
the test," to using the same test year after year so students will
get to know the questions, to using old tests with outdated norms so
the students will be smarter than the test.
Cheating was found in 40 California elementary schools in 1988,
according to the state department of education.
But things are starting to change. Last year, Texas passed tough
legislation that holds test publishers liable for triple damages for
selling tests with inaccurate or outdated norms.
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee have totally revamped their
standardized testing program. Kentucky is going to start, and West
Virginia and South Carolina are in the early stages of reform.
Part of the impetus for the changes may have come from the
efforts of a physician named John Cannell who has been a one-man
watchdog over the issue of cheating on standardized achievement
tests. He singled out the six states above as well as North Carolina
and Georgia as having systematic cheating. …