Testing irregularities in Nevada’s public schools, including incidents involving student cheating and teacher misconduct, increased by more than 50 percent in 2003-04 from the previous school year, according to an annual report.
The report, which was mandated by the legislature in 2001, found 24 incidents of student cheating and 10 incidents that involved the improper disclosure of testing materials to students by teachers in the past school year.
“When you look at overall testing, it’s a minute number,” said Keith Rheault, the state superintendent of schools.
He also pointed out that of the 121 testing irregularities cited by the report, half were the result of improper test administration.
In the report, submitted to the Assembly’s committee on education last month, officials with the state department of education contend that the increase in test irregularities is due in large part to the testing demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The increased amount of testing and the demand for schools to meet targets for adequate yearly progress have put more pressure on teachers and students to get better scores, Mr. Rheault said.
A majority of cheating by Nevada students and teachers occurs in grades 8-12, where more students have access to electronic gadgets that they use to give them an edge. For example, they can use cell phones that take pictures, store text notes, and transmit messages in ways that can help them cheat on tests.
Other students may use wristwatches with built-in calculators that can be difficult for teachers to spot. Calculators are barred from some of Nevada’s standardized tests.
Teachers who improperly disclose testing materials or help students on tests can have their licenses suspended or revoked. In July, the state revoked one teacher’s license and suspended three others for test-related infractions. Six other cases are pending review.
Remedies Not Easy
While some observers are skeptical that pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind law has contributed to student cheating, they say that cheating and other testing misconduct by teachers is an understudied area.
Monty Neill, the executive director of the National Association for Fair & Open Testing, a Cambridge, Mass.-based watchdog group, said that incidents of cheating nationwide are relatively few. But the 2½-year-old federal law has greatly raised the stakes for schools, he said.
“The speed of test-score gains required by nclb is so impossible and so irrational it has undoubtedly caused panic in many places, which can lead to cheating,” Mr. Neill said.
The federal law, in his view, has helped foster a kind of testing mania, and cheating obscures what he argues is the real problem: the improper use of tests.
To complicate matters, many solutions to teacher and student cheating—such as better training for teachers who administer tests, use of proctors, and placement of more than one teacher on duty during tests—are not as simple as they may seem, according to Mr. Neill.
Proctors can be expensive, and studies have shown that test administrators who are unfamiliar to students can make some test-takers uncomfortable. As a result, the students may perform poorly on the tests.
More Tests Ahead
Training teachers to administer tests, although a good means of prevention, also involves a trade-off, said Mr. Neill, because it can take time away from more educationally beneficial activities such as professional development.
Nevada education officials are taking some steps to reduce testing irregularities.
The state department of education has refined its annual training sessions on test administration, solicited feedback from districts about unclear instructions and test-administration guidelines, and made testing guidelines available online, by mail, and at training sessions.
The department has also requested a full-time training officer to help oversee the testing- irregularities caseload, which is expected to increase when the state begins administering mathematics and reading tests that will be phased in this year.
Referring to testing irregularities, Mr. Rheault, the schools chief, said: “Overall, we’ve made it a priority to make sure it’s not affecting the results of our tests in Nevada.”