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Silver Lining

By their own admission, Michigan testing officials goofed last year in their handling of possible cheating. Now, though, the goof has turned into something good.

At least that's the view of the state officials, who attribute a steep drop in the number of tests flagged for "irregularities" this year to last year's highly publicized mess and its aftermath. Of spring 2001's batch of Michigan Educational Assessment Program exams, 484 came back from graders with possible cheating "alerts."

This year, the number is 44.

"We believe that the dramatic drop in the number of test alerts is the result of last year's report" that followed the inadvertent release of the names of 71 schools that were under suspicion for "inappropriate test administration practices," said Terry Stanton, the spokesman for the Michigan Department of Treasury, which oversees the state exams. The report "helped [schools] develop a deeper understanding and awareness" of what is out of bounds, he said.

But local school administrators are less thrilled by the test-alert drop. They remember the sting of being identified as a possible cheater—without being offered the chance to explain.

The treasury department's procedure was, and still is, to present seeming irregularities to local officials for explanation before deciding if cheating took place. Last year, though, the list got out before state officials could take that step.

The outcry among superintendents and principals was so great that state lawmakers called a joint meeting of the legislature's education committees.

In the end, just 20 of 71 schools were found to have done something wrong, and even those escaped punishment—which could have included zeroing out whole groups of tests.

This year, fewer than a half-dozen schools will be cited for cheating, Mr. Stanton said.

The names of the schools have not been released.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 20

Published in Print: June 12, 2002, as State Journal

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