The Texas Education Agency is launching an investigation next month to determine how widespread test cheating is throughout the state.
In a letter to school administrators earlier this summer, state Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley said the agency would also create an independent task force to lead the investigation, use on-site monitors to oversee future administrations of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and impose sanctions against schools or districts where cheating is exposed.
The five-member task force, which has been created, includes business and education leaders.
The agency is also putting some muscle behind the investigation and has assigned 15 people to work on the project—tripling the size of the staff that had been in charge of looking into allegations of testing improprieties.
“I know that these measures I am implementing are uncomfortable, but I also know that our administrators, teachers, and students who work hard and have conducted themselves properly want, and deserve, this cloud of suspicion to be eliminated,” Ms. Neeley wrote in the letter. “School districts that have conducted themselves professionally and in compliance with state policies need not worry about these additional test-security measures.”
The inquiry follows the release of a report earlier this year by Caveon, a Midvale, Utah-based testing-security company, that found “statistical inconsistencies” at 609 schools, in about 1 percent of the state’s classrooms.
Patterns that caught the company’s attention included tests with very similar responses, multiple erasures or marks on a testing sheet, and large score gains over a short period of time.
The company’s report, however, also said that testing irregularities appeared to be isolated. Texas education groups say they are eager to know just exactly where cheating is really occurring and why.
“There are a million reasons for testing irregularities,” said Amy Beneski, the associate executive director for governmental relations at the Texas Association of School Administrators. “We need to sit back and wait before we jump to a conclusion one way or another.”
Whatever the investigation shows, cheating is “the exception, not the rule. Schools are working very hard to increase student achievement.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week