USA Today, in the persons of reporters Marisol Bello and Greg Toppo, has a new ground-breaking report on the feeble response to standardized test-tampering in America.
Bello and former USA Today reporter Jack Gillum exposed test security problems in the D.C. schools. Now, we learn that most states are even worse than D.C. because they don’t bother even to look for evidence of unusual numbers of wrong-to-right erasures.
USA Today reports that only 20 states and the District do any erasure analysis. Four others give tests online (a good way to prevent principals from changing answers after the kids go home) and so don’t have erasures to check. It said five other states, including Maryland, plan to check erasures next year because of the outbreak of cheating scandals in Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia and the District. New York may do the same.
In the District, USA Today in March reported rates of changing wrong answers to right far above average in 103 public schools from 2008 to 2010. D.C.school officials paid for the testing company to do the extra analysis, but then did little with it. They spent $100,000 on a security report that accepted absurd explanations such as “we asked kids to check their work,” and made no effort to interview students or parents who might know otherwise. When USA Today blew the whistle, a probe by the D.C. Inspector General was ordered, but there are few signs that that will be thorough.
By my count, that leaves 20 states who have not done anything about illicit erasures. It costs money, but not that much: A New Mexico official said the analysis will add $70,000 to the state’s annual testing budget.
(Bias alert: My wife, Linda, conceived and edited the original USA Today series on cheating that included the D.C. story. She retired after it ran and had nothing to do with the latest USA Today story.)
If the D.C. schools produce a deep investigation of what happened, and a few other states do what Georgia did — send experienced investigators into districts which show unusual erasures — we might see some progress on this issue. If not, the folks who don’t like standardized testing will be happy, because this kind of tampering is the death knell of that form of assessment.