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Report: Preventing, Detecting, and Responding to Cheating

For your Valentine's Day reading, here's some advice on dealing with cheating: A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences has recommendations for preventing, detecting, and responding to cheating and irregularities in computer-based and regular standardized tests.

Cheating scandals have arisen around the country in recent years, as teacher and principal bonuses and schools' reputations have been increasingly tied to performance on standardized tests. Districts in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and El Paso have all had to respond to allegations of various kinds of testing improprieties. This report says it is attempting to fill in the gap of a lack of best practices for dealing with cheating.

The report is broken into four sections: Preventing cheating; detecting irregularities; responding to scandals; and preventing mishaps in technology-based testing. Some of the tips:

Preventing Irregularities:


  • Develop a definition of cheating;
  • Develop standard policies and procedures for test administration;
  • Focus on "high-risk threats:" exposing test items before testing, sharing answers, and proxy test-taking;
  • Train principals and teachers in administering and interpreting assessments;
  • Ensure that all students take the test at the same time or close to the same time;
  • Establish and monitor who is responsible for test materials.

Detecting and Analyzing Irregularities

  • Build detection into the testing process;
  • Monitor for irregularities during test administration;
  • Analyze tests to ensure that there aren't unusually large gains, common response patterns, or large numbers of erasures;


Responding and Investigating Irregularities

  • Provide multiple reporting systems, like a tipline or email line, for suspected irregularities;
  • Require reports of suspected cheating to go "up the chain";
  • Establish a standard or trigger for an investigation;
  • Investigate even if the allegation is vague or informal—for instance, the report says, a parent saying, "I don't understand these scores because I know my child is not performing at these levels may be an indicator that something is off;"
  • Districts should collaborate with states during investigations;
  • Be transparent in the wake of an investigation to restore credibility;

The report suggests that computer-based testing is less susceptible to cheating, due to the lack of test booklets, for instance, but also suggests that there are new challenges in such practices. With regard to such tests, the report suggests that districts:

  • Train test administrators in how to ensure security;
  • Create clear processes (like using certain web browsers, disabling screenshot or save/copy/paste functions on computers.)

The report draws from information gathered after a request for information on best practices for testing integrity put out by the federal department of education, from a symposium on testing integrity held last year, and from other guidelines.

Critics have long asserted that high-stakes standardized tests encourage cheating—but protests from Seattle teachers have placed them even more in the forefront of the national conversation recently.

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