Missouri fails to check for standardized test cheating

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Despite dozens of incidents of testing irregularities, Missouri education officials spend nothing on test fraud detection services and have dismantled a program that had sent inspectors randomly into schools to ensure tests were administered properly.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/FQ7Eob) reported that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received more than 100 reports of standardized testing irregularities, including cheating, in 2010 and 2011.

The reports come as pressure to fare well on the Missouri Assessment Program has grown, with the results used to help determine such things as whether districts lose or regain accreditation. In some school systems, including St. Louis Public Schools, test scores can play a role in determining whether principals keeps their job.

But instead of adding to the $8.4 million the state spends to administer the standardized test to pay for statistical analyses that could weed out potential abuses, Missouri education officials rely on a system of self-reporting. The assumption is teachers and administrators will come to the state when they know of possible abuse.

Critics suggest it's simply easier for states to look the other way.

"If you don't look, you don't find," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. "You are void of embarrassment by not asking tough questions."

But state education officials said there is a cost to contracting with its testing vendor, CTB McGraw-Hill, to look for an abnormal number of identical answers in a classroom, answer sheets with a higher-than-normal number of erasure marks, or statistically impossible gains or drops in student performance.

According to the department, an erasure analysis for grades 3-8 would cost $20,000 a year. A score gain analysis, which would look for abnormal improvements, would cost $25,000 for grades 3-8.

"We have tried to rely on self-reports in our districts in Missouri," said Sharon Hoge, an assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "I'm not telling you that means there are not things possibly that are going on that we don't know about."

Hoge also said that even though Missouri doesn't pay CTB McGraw-Hill to look for problems, the testing company looks anyway, particularly for sudden and extreme changes in scores.

Missouri's passive approach to test fraud has nonetheless turned up abuses. Around the state, school district investigators have confirmed claims of cheating in the North Kansas City, Kansas City, Raytown, Clinton, Jackson, Sherwood Cass, Jefferson City, Hickman Mills, Northwest, and Risco districts, and others.

At Koch Elementary School in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District, science test scores of 23 fifth-graders were thrown out by the state after the district found a teacher last year had allowed students to use notes on the science and math exams. Math tests were not thrown out. That teacher, according to state records, was subsequently fired.

But with no state test facilitators, no analyses to look for irregularities, and growing incentives for educators to cheat, Hoge said, there's no way to ensure that cheating isn't more widespread.

"There can be no guarantee," Hoge said, "unless we have a monitor in every classroom."

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