In Short

June 20, 2001 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Too many eraser marks on a standardized test could signal that someone is cheating, says a University of Iowa researcher.

As the stakes surrounding achievement tests have risen in recent years, so, too, have reports of cheating. But little is known about detecting whether teachers or principals are erasing and changing students’ answers, said Audrey L. Qualls, an associate professor of educational measurement and statistics at the university’s Iowa City campus.

To find out how many erasures are too many, Ms. Qualls decided to analyze answer sheets from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Her results appeared last month in the journal Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice. She started with test papers from a nationally representative sample of students from 16 districts in Iowa, where pressure for schools to perform well on the tests is minimal.

Getting hold of the tests was easy; Ms. Qualls is a co-author for several parts of the Iowa tests. Counting erasures was harder. Because machine scans undercounted erasures, Ms. Qualls and her assistants resorted to counting them by hand.

The researchers also compared their results with those for districts in a unidentified state that puts slightly more pressure on schools to post high scores.

In both analyses, the researchers found that most students change from zero to six answers on their tests. Not all of those changes are for the better. On a test with one erasure, for example, students made wrong-to-right changes only 50 percent of the time. For multiple erasures, the percentages of wrong-to-right changes were dramatically lower.

Test-behavior patterns outside those norms, Ms. Qualls concluded, might reasonably flag cheating—but only as a “second step’’ in such detection. Unusual score gains, a tip from a parent or an educator, or machine scans showing lots of erasures should still be the first sign of trouble, she said.

“It’s difficult to even want to point a finger that someone is cheating,” she added. “But we have to be able to trust tests.”

—Debra Viadero

Coverage of research is underwritten in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2001 edition of Education Week as In Short


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Opinion Rebooting Assessment and Accountability Post-Pandemic: What Now?
The disruptions of the pandemic have made this an ideal time to rethink accountability and assessment.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Assessment Don’t Use State Tests ‘Punitively,’ Ed. Secretary Cardona Warns
As federal accountability restarts after two years, guidance from the department underscores how complicated that could be.
5 min read
Image of data, target goals, and gaining ground.
Assessment Latest Round of Federal Grants Aims to Make States' Assessments More Equitable, Precise
The U.S. Department of Education awarded over $29 million in competitive grants to 10 state education agencies.
2 min read
Assessment review data 599911460
Assessment Opinion Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
Student portfolios and school community surveys are but two of the many alternatives to standardized tests.
3 min read
Illustration of students in virus environment facing wave of test sheets.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)