The federal government has become concerned enough about repeated cheating scandals on standardized tests in school districts across the country that it is gathering information on how to prevent, detect and respond to irregularities on completed tests.

In an announcement in the Federal Register. the U.S. Department of Education is asking members of the public to answer a series of questions and share information by 5 p.m. Feb. 16. (You can find out where to send information here.)

Cheating scandals have popped up around the country in recent years, with the biggest one so far exposed last year in Atlanta. Seventy-eight percent of teachers and principals in 44 of the city’s 56 public schools examined were found to have cheated on standardized tests. School superintendent Beverly Hall was forced out.

Just last month, another Georgia school system was hit by a cheating scandal. In the Dougherty County Public Schools system, 49 educators, including 11 principals, were implicated in the case.

In Washington, investigations are underway on alleged test cheating in D.C. public schools during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor. There have also been reports of cheating in literally dozens of other school districts across the United States.

A key reason cited in every case: pressure to meet No Child Left Behind requirements.

And even if states receive federal waivers from the onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration’s policies still put standardized tests at the center of accountability systems in public education.

As long as high-stakes tests matter so much — and for many reasons, they shouldn’t — the chances that people will continue to try to cheat on them are high. (That is not to suggest that high-stakes tests shouldn’t be given to stop cheating; they shouldn’t be given because they are unfair in many different ways. Nobody should cheat on these tests.)

Here’s the summary of the Federal Register notice from the Education Department:

“In light of recent, high-profile reports of misconduct by school officials in the test administration process, the U.S. Department of Education (“the Department” or “we”) is seeking to collect and share information about best practices that have been used to prevent, detect, and respond to irregularities in academic testing. To that end, the Department is taking several steps, described below, to collect information and gather suggestions to assist State educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and the testing-integrity-focused organizations that service them. The Department anticipates making use of this information to facilitate further dialogue and to help SEAs and LEAs identify, share, and implement best practices for preventing, detecting, and investigating irregularities in academic testing.

First, the Department is issuing this request for information (RFI) to collect information about the integrity of academic testing. We pose a series of questions to which we invite interested members of the public to respond. Second, the Department will host a symposium where external experts can engage in further discussion and probe these issues in greater depth.

Third, the Department will publish a document that contains a summary of the recommendations that were developed as a result of the RFI and the symposium, as well as other resources identified by external experts participating in the symposium.

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