Cheating on High Stakes Tests

John Merrow has documented several scandals involving cheating, including this one in Washington, DC, under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In Merrow’s Blog, Learning Matters/Taking Note, he documents a common way for teachers or principals to change answers to high stakes tests in order to raise the test scores of students. The cheating method is called erasures and the analysis method to uncover that is called Wrong-To-Right Erasures.

The gist of his message: the many ‘wrong to right’ erasures on the students’ answer sheets suggested widespread cheating by adults.

“It is common knowledge in the high-stakes testing community that one of the easiest ways for teachers to artificially inflate student test scores is to erase student wrong responses to multiple choice questions and recode them as correct,” Sanford wrote.

Sanford analyzed the evidence from one school, Aiton, whose scores had jumped by 29 percentiles in reading and 43 percentiles in math and whose staff–from the principal down to the custodians–Rhee had rewarded with $276,265 in bonuses. Answer sheets revealed an average of 5.7 WTR erasures in reading and 6.8 in math, significantly above the district average of 1.7 and 2.3.[3] (John Merrow’s Blog).

 Of course, what makes this so sad is that there was widespread cheating by adults and that it increases as the high-stakes increase and the pressure to to show improvement on standardized tests is most acutely felt by the teachers and principals in schools. Also implicated are Michelle Rhee and her claims that her her turn-around leadership resulted in higher test scores. And this is not even the most recent news on cheating. EdWeek reports that in Atlanta 35 educators are being indicted for alleged cheating and a Pennsylvania state criminal investigation of 130 educators and three high school principals in Philadelphia has resulted in  their indictment for their alleged involvement in cheating.

Three high school principals have been fired and more than 130 other current and former educators in the Philadelphia school system are facing disciplinary actions for their alleged involvement in cheating on state tests, according to numerous local media accounts.

And the Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend that a state criminal investigation is under way into the allegations that widespread cheating on state exams occurred in city schools during 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Allegations of cheating first cropped up in 2011, and a pair of investigations by the school district and the state education agency have been unfolding ever since.

The scale of the cheating and the numbers of educators implicated are similar to what unfolded in Atlanta, where 35 educators ended up being indicted by a grand jury, including former superintendent Beverly Hall. Many have recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their cooperation with prosecutors.

Ms. Hall, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, is expected to stand trial later this year. (

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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