The newspaper that cried wolf

The L.A.
had its exposé on teacher performance; now USA Today has its own, this one analyzing high-stakes testing and
the “cheating scandals” that go with it. The analysis examined test-score data
in six states and found 1,610 schools with unusually large grade-level
performance gains from one year to the next (the analysis included anywhere
from three to seven years of data for each state). In some cases, these gains
disappeared as students moved to the next grade, implying that the sudden boost
was not only temporary but also probably fabricated. That’s disconcerting, for
sure, but the instances of potential cheating were exceedingly rare: As Chad
Aldeman points out, just 304 schools out of 22,039 were flagged in 2008-09, or less than 1.4
. By all means, states and districts should work at test security,
guard against cheating, and prosecute any bad actors. But this analysis hardly
indicates that standardized testing is forcing unethical behavior at large scale.

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test scores seem too good to believe
,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack
Gillum, and Jodi Upton, USA Today,
March 6, 2011.

across the country show unreal gains on tests but stand by results
,” by
Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2011.