Does High-Stakes Testing Mean High-Stakes Cheating?

By Naomi Dillon

Weighing in at a hefty 171 pages, the report commissioned by the Georgia Governor’s Office of Special Investigators hardly constitutes as a light read, but it’s riveting nonetheless. Released amid a string of scorching summer days in July, the exhaustive inquiry provided painstaking detail of what many had long suspected: Atlanta Public Schools testing gains were too good to be true.

Led by a team of former state prosecutors, the state probe included more than 2,100 testimonies and 800,000 documents over a 10 month-period. It cited evidence of test collusion at 44 of the district’s 100 schools. Adults, not students, were the perpetrators, with 178 educators implicated, nearly half of whom would later confess.

In the spring, before news of the Atlanta cheating scandal broke, USA Today published an investigative series that identified at least 1,610 instances of test results across six states and the District of Columbia that were so improbable they smacked of manipulation. Since then, allegations of suspicious test scores have popped up like wildfire across the country in school districts in Pennsylvania, New York, California, and others.

“There’s no incentive under the current system to really vigorously pursue questioning good results,” says Gregory Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who served as an expert in the Atlanta investigation. “The parents want to look good, the teacher wants to make AYP and the students want good scores. Plus, it’s generally in no one’s job description to look deeper.”

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