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Published in Print: September 20, 2000, as Teacher-Test Proctor, 9 Others Indicted in Cheating Probe

Teacher-Test Proctor, 9 Others Indicted in Cheating Probe

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A former test proctor has been indicted on federal fraud and conspiracy charges for allegedly helping aspiring teachers cheat on their licensing exams.

Linda Easter, of Little Rock, Ark., was named along with nine others in an indictment returned Sept. 7 by a grand jury in that city. It accuses her and another woman, Altermease Brown of Greenville, Miss., of accepting cash payments for giving test-takers extra time or assistance on the PRAXIS series of tests required by many states for initial teacher certification.

Ms. Easter was an employee of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, which served as a test site, and also worked as a test-site proctor for the Princeton, N.J.- based Educational Testing Service, which administers the test. She no longer works for the college, and the college is not suspected of any wrongdoing, prosecutors said. She has been dismissed from her proctoring job, ETS spokesman Thomas A. Ewing said.

The indictment caps a yearlong probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The ETS alerted the federal agency when it discovered last year that the alleged cheating scheme involved several states. As a result of the alleged fraud ring, the testing service invalidated the scores of 52 people in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Raymond Nicosia, the director of test security for the ETS, welcomed the indictment, saying in a written statement that it served as proof that attempts to undermine the testing process "have more serious consequences than subverting state licensing efforts and disadvantaging examinees who test fairly."

Lawyers for Ms. Easter and Ms. Brown could not be reached for comment.

Origins of Alleged Scheme

According to the indictment, the three-year scheme began in 1997, when Ms. Easter and Ms. Brown allegedly began accepting payments to let people take the test at locations other than at Philander Smith, including Ms. Brown's Mississippi home. Test-takers were given assistance on the exams and extra time to complete them, and the results were scored and turned in to the ETS as though the tests had been taken under the required conditions, the indictment alleges.

On at least one occasion, April 24, 1999, six people who took the test at Philander Smith were taken to a nearby motel and allowed extra time to complete it, the indictment maintains.

The indictment does not specify how much the two women are believed to have earned from the alleged fraud scheme, but it alleges that on one occasion, Ms. Easter and Ms. Brown divided the cash paid by 18 people and that Ms. Easter's portion was $9,200.

Of the other eight defendants, two are men who are accused of helping arrange the test-taking or of assisting people while they were taking the exams; three are teachers who allegedly paid to take the tests; and three are teachers who are accused of taking the test and lying about it to the grand jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stripling, the Little Rock-based prosecutor assigned to the case, said that some teachers who paid to take the test under improper conditions had agreed to testify against the defendants. Arraignment was scheduled for Sept. 19.

Some tests in the PRAXIS series are used to gauge the reading, writing, and math skills of prospective teachers, and others test their knowledge in specialized fields. Most of the tests involved in the alleged Arkansas-based scheme were the basic- skills tests, and a few were in specialized areas, according to Mr. Ewing of the ETS.

Thirty-four states use a form of the PRAXIS test in assessing teacher competency, Mr. Ewing said.

Vol. 20, Issue 3, Page 13

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