Assessment Opinion

Students Purchase Test Banks: Is This Cheating?

By Anthony Cody — January 08, 2012 3 min read
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Guest post by Chuck Olynyk.

Readers of this blog may recall Chuck Olynyk’s guest posts here starting two years ago, when he gave us all front row seats to witness the dismantling of a “failed” high school in Los Angeles. Today, from his new classroom at Roosevelt High, he shares his thoughts about the latest scandal to hit the schools. This was originally posted at his Remember Fremont blog.

A few days ago, I complained about Sandra Day O’Connor and her iCivics, grousing about “lesson plans in a box”.

Yet what do I finally suggest to folks? A website, run a some sort of cooperative (What’s that noise? My parents rolling over in their graves because they’d label me a communist? Yeah, probably...), where teachers could go to find how-to articles on doing living history in the classroom, as well as resources and... wait for it... downloadable lessons. I just realized I was advocating another set of lesson plans in a box.

Maybe I’m enough of a hypocrite to think that it’s okay as long as I build the box, eh?

We also like to commend thinking outside the boxes.

Here’s the ultimate box. It was purchased by students at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach. The contents of the Box were "...test banks, which provide chapter-by-chapter questions for tests, which textbook publishers provide to ensure teachers craft exams that properly assess student learning...” and purchased by approximately ten students who, in turn may have sought to sell said material to some of the other 170 students taking the class.

The take?

One outraged parent called it “a program fail.” It is not clear to me whether she is blaming “the System” (please define that for yourselves) or “the School” or perhaps the teacher. A district official, however, called the publisher to make certain Amazon no longer offers the test bank for sale online.

Principal Tim Bryan said “If you have the test questions in advance, you’re cheating... They altered the conditions of the test. It’s a really big issue for us...” So big, in fact, that it hasn’t been decided IF the students will be disciplined.


And from the gallery of commenters on the article, what does John Q. Non-Educator Public think?

This is not cheating. Instead, these students are to be commended for conducting topic research, resourcefulness, targeting and learning what is considered the most important content and their desire to succeed. All through Jr High, HS and college, teachers frequently said 'this will be on the test!' These teachers rightfully communicated that the content is deemed so important, they ensured we studied and learned it. Thus, we knew the test question in advance. Also through the school years, we were encouraged to learn the content from additional sources beyond the formal classroom books (aka recommended reading and other). These students did just that...

Jeez, maybe we can recycle the dialog from Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge": (during war games) “Your man cheated!” “He adapted. He overcame.”

Or we can go to the Otter Defense from “National Lampoon’s Animal House”: Otter:

Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did. " [winks at Dean Wormer] "But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
[Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]--"National Lampoon's Animal House"

After all, an esteemed educational leader, Dr. Beverly Hall, late of Atlanta Public Schools, used that defense in August: “Beverly Hall: The Scandal Is Not the Whole Story”

IF the students will be disciplined. Folk in that district will have some weighty issues to decide upon. Do they want to discipline the students and potentially face a lawsuit from angry parents? Will they have to prove this was cheating? The principal said so, but that definition may change the higher up the food chain one goes. The parents could have an attorney argue that all the students did was purchase a legal product online. How will this affect the teacher who reported the cheating? Was the cheating going on for a while? What about that teacher’s grades. After all, in a place like Fremont, where one has to justify every “Fail,” having ten more students doing better might make the teacher look more effective.

Or... you can remove the problem. No, not by calling the publisher. Again, I’ll write what I did in August:

You want to eliminate the problem? Change the test. For years we'd been told to get away from multiple choice testing. Even the Secretary of Education says this out of one side of his face. 'Come up with project-based lessons.' My students haven't taken a multiple-choice test in years, save for the standardized tests. They are given essays to write, both as a means too express themselves--and I evaluate them on an individual basis--and to improve the writing skills. I can get a lot closer to seeing the "whole child" and what they have learned than any damned 'drop-the-pencil' test ever can.

It won’t just be ten students who learn a lesson based upon what the principal of Corona del Mar High School and the district decide to do. It will be the other students on campus and other school districts.

Let’s just hope it isn’t the wrong lesson.

What do you think? Are students who purchase test banks to prepare for tests cheating? How about teachers who work backwards from test blueprints and released questions to prepare their students for high stakes tests?

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