Educators Help Students Cheat on Tests, Study Charges

From Associated Press

Educators desperate to demonstrate excellence are helping students cheat on standardized tests, contributing to scores in 48 states that are misleadlingly “above average,” a report charges.

At the same time, test security in virtually all states remains “totally inadequate,” says “The Lake Wobegon Report: How Public Educators Cheat on Achievement Tests.”

The cheating includes teachers and principals coaching students on test questions, giving students more than the allotted time to take tests and even altering answer sheets, the report charges.


State Audits Lacking

Few states randomly audit test scores to uncover improprieties, according to the study. California, one the few that does, caught 50 schools cheating on the statewide achievement testing program in the last three years.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is still investigating allegations of cheating on state standardized tests in some schools.

All but two states--Louisiana and Arizona--are reporting “above average” or inflated scores, according to the 50-state survey. Those states recently started using new tests.

Eighty-three percent of 5,143 elementary school districts and 73% of 4,501 secondary school districts surveyed are reporting standardized achievement test scores above the national norms, the report said.

The study was conducted by Friends for Education, an educational watchdog group headed by an Albuquerque physician, John Jacob Cannell. It was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Kettering Family Foundation in Dayton, Ohio. A draft of the report was obtained by the Associated Press.

Cannell made headlines in November, 1987, with a report documenting that students were scoring “above average” on standardized tests in all 50 states at that time.


That report asserted that scores on such “norm-referenced” tests--designed so that only half those taking it should score above the 50th percentile--were artificially high largely because the norms were not being updated often enough by test publishers.

The resulting overly bright picture of student achievement became labeled the “Lake Wobegon Effect,” after author Garrison Keillor’s mythical Minnesota town, where “all the children are above average.”

Test publishers have responded that it’s expensive to re-norm tests as frequently as critics like Cannell demand. They say the improved scores, in fact, show that schools are getting better. And they defend their tests as useful tools to identify pupil or group strengths and weaknesses.

The tests, taken by students in all 50 states, include the California Achievement Test, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Metropolitan Achievement Test, the Science Research Associates Test, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Cannell’s allegations were largely confirmed in 1988 by a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored follow-up study.