A Cheating Epidemic?

Last week Slate magazine ran an article claiming that cheating was increasingly widespread, directly attributable to NCLB, and an obvious example of how the system needed to be fixed.  In response, I wrote a Huffington Post column asserting that there was no real evidence of a cheating epidemic, that the pressures of NCLB were being overstated, and that cheating needs to be seen as the actions of individuals exercising decisions.  Debate has ensued on Twitter (@alexanderrusso) and I'm hoping you'll join in with your first-hand experiences, second-hand stories, and insight here or in the Twitterverse (or Facebook, or Google+).  Epidemic?  Caused by NCLB?  Whose fault when it happens?  Go.


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  • NCLB is an example of Evidence LESS ideology trumping real research based practices. No real research to back them up. NCLB is a joke but is eating up your tax money, students, teachers...

  • Only someone not in schools on a daily basis would believe cheating is NOT rampant.

    NCLB is all about gaming the system and manipulating the data.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I dont think cheating is rampant though there are schools that cheat. NCLB is not the problem. In fact, NCLB finally started holding schools and districts accountable and making transparent those schools not performing. That is not to say NCLB could not be improved. It can. But the problem is really that it is easier to cheat or complain about testing or parents than to do the hard work of aligning curriculum and having rigorous, engaging and differentiated instruction. With great instruction, test scores follow. Great principals and teachers understand that. Bad principals and teachers cheat. Mediocre principals and teachers do test prep.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    NCLB is a document to cover politicians and Superintendents that they are getting their house in order. Most education research is critical of NCLB. So, who is left who says it good? Politicians, Superintendents, and all the large assessment companies who are making a killing off of our tax dollars. Dumbing down the curriculum, launching the test prep age and taking the soul out of instruction. NCLB a crock of ... you fill in the rest!

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    There needs to be a like button on here. I love the last two lines. So true.

  • I thought Alexander's Huffington Post essay on test cheating was fascinating. I do not know whether or not there is an increase in what I would call systematic test cheating based on NCLB pressures. But I believe that with the onset of NCLB the level of test preparation being done probably constitutes test cheating. As we know many of the preparation programs are developed by the same people and companied that write the tests. While not actually giving answers to the real test questions the approximations are in many cases so close that children do not have to think independently to draw from an established knowledge to find a method to answer the question, but rather select from a rote memorization of methods used for approximately the same questions and apply it to the question in the real test.

    Deborah Meier discussed this issue in an article appearing USA Today on July 17 (http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2011-07-17-standardized-tests-trigger-cheating_n.htm). She writes: "In the good old days when I began teaching and test scores were first being reported by the local press, cheating started to rear its ugly head. Before that, test publishers told us that any kind of test preparation at all was cheating. At most, teachers would provide kids just 15 to 20 minutes of practice items immediately before the test."

    Ms. Meier is totally correct, we are creating a generation of answer anticipators. Test taking for urban children is becoming an imitation of a Google search engine algorithm. (to understand my analogy here see http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html) I think the issue of test cheating is deeper than schools or even school districts that conspire to correct answers. I would suggest that one reason why our Mayor wants his children to go to Lab School is to have a deeper learning experience that produces meaning and understanding, not a process that replicates a Google search engine. Unfortunately on a mass scale the Lab School experience would be very expensive and our society is not willing to provide such an education to the mass of American children, so we settle for teaching children to be trained search engines instead.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:


    I don't agree with your analysis. Do you have any research or hard evidence to support your claim that test prep is somehow giving test scores a big boost? I've been teaching in Chicago schools for over 15 years, and I've both tried to prepare my students for and administered the ISAT (or its predecessors) many times. Yes, we did some test prep (it did not take over our curriculum), but no matter how much we would have done, test prep by itself would NEVER have raised my students' scores more than a tiny amount. Schools that are getting great results get those results because they teach students the skills and concepts demanded by the standards. When I say great I'm not talking about going from 50% to 60% of students "meeting" on the ISAT. That's not very meaningful, nor should it be anywhere near the goal, because "meeting" on the ISAT is only around the 40th percentile or less and does not indicate preparedness for high school and beyond. Look at schools in Chicago and around the country that are getting truly outstanding results in terms of student achievement, Frazier International, to name just one in Chicago, getting 90% or more of students who are at least 90% low income and 90% minority to "meet". Frazier is now attempting to raise the number of students who are achieving at the "exceeds" level, where they need to be. You can't get that kind of achievement by "test prep". You get that kind of achievement by teaching students a rigorous, standards based curriculum, frequently assessing to find out which students have mastered the skills/concepts and which need more instruction, AND to inform teachers about the effectiveness of their instruction and to help them improve. After the assessments you provide extra support to students who are still struggling to learn the skills or concepts.

    Chicago students as a whole aren't doing so poorly on the ISAT and other assessments because they haven't learned to act like a search engine; they're doing poorly because they can't read anywhere near grade level, do not have the math skills, haven't been taught to make and support an argument, etc, etc. When we teach them and they do better, that's not test prep, that's good teaching.

  • In reply to Chicago Teacher:

    I think the best evidence of the impact of test prep using CPS schools is how different on average students average test scores are on the ISAT and the NAEP. There have been numerous articles on this in the media and even Substance and Catalyst have written articles on this. Because there are so few charter schools still there is no data yet isolating the gap between ISAT and NAEP for these schools in particular.

    The conservative CATO institute in a 2009 report really took CPS apart on this issue. To see this report go to http://www.cato.org/pubs/researchnotes/coulson-questioning-chicago-miracle.pdf

    The CATO report avoids the issue of test prep in relation to ISAT because it is a high stakes test and the lack of such test developer linked prep to NAEP in Chicago. But that is a reality. There are other reports that look at the same data as CATO did and draw similar conclusions on the testing gap between the test CPS students are prepped for and the one they are not prepped for.

    In my own work with CPS special education students and students suspected of having disabilities it is a normal practice for me to refer students and families to the UIC educational assessment clinic. The clinic administers a battery of tests that we can compare to ISAT results and I find consistently that ISAT scores are consistently higher than scores on these tests. The faculty at the clinic has repeated told me that the inflation of CPS ISAT scores relative to controlled administered instruments is the norm in the cases they see. To learn more about the work of the clinic go to http://education.uic.edu/sped/uiceducational%20assessment%20clinic.cfm

    I would add that there is no question that there are CPS schools and charter school teaching effectively Frazier is named as one and there are others. But overall CPS scores have improved consistently and many, many schools are not teaching effectively for long -term deeper understanding. When you have test developers also doing test prep you have a profound problem. I can direct blog readers to numerous ISAT prep programs here is one example http://www.psae-prep.com/psae-elementary.htm

    I stand by my comments equating the current level of test prep in CPS schools to cheating and the learning approach this prep is in developing in many low-income students in the city.

    Rod Estvan

  • IF your job and the financial means of your family depended on a test , given over a few days , to kids who may or may not care about it , WHAT WOULD YOU DO ? Teachers work hard all year to teach the kids, and then, no matter what's gone on Sept. - March, it all comes down to these few hours of testing. Some kids care , some kids don't ... some bubble in any old answer just to get done. But those scores mean EVERYTHING to a school and its employees.
    I don't believe teachers should cheat , give kids answers, help them during the test, or any of that . BUT I understand the pressure of it . The system is flawed and needs to be changed. Schools should get more credit for improvement than for meeting those yearly AYP percentages.
    AND don't forget that not everybody started this "race" at the same place... some schools already had high percentages of kids at level, while others started with less than 20% , and yet the bar is set the same for all.

  • In reply to 30-Yr. Vet:

    NCLB was sold to the states a No Evidence based program without an analyzing its claims, simple as cause and effects. Remember the NCLB, again was a way for politicians to cover their behinds to say they were doing "something" even if they were really saying 2 plus 2 = 9. Our politicians bought it and our children and teachers are the victims. If you go to Tennessee, their high school exit exam was leveled at the fifth grade. States are gaming the tests with cheating or no cheating. The heads state school boards understand that! That is why they have to finagle the results.

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