When test scores seem too good to believe

<snark>I am shocked!</snark>


Pressure causing teachers to cheat? With increasing numbers of school districts tying teacher pay to student test scores, USA Today looks at some of the results.

Dramatic test improvements are usually causes for celebration.

That’s because of the increasingly high stakes attached to the tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Although most school districts retain the power to hire and fire teachers, 10 states now require that student scores be the main criterion in teacher evaluations. Some states and districts reward educators for raising scores; a teacher may earn a bonus of as much as $25,000 in Washington, D.C., if his or her students’ scores climb. NCLB also puts principals’ jobs on the line if students’ scores don’t improve. Most of the 130 Detroit public schools closed since 2005 were cited for having low test scores.

The Obama administration has begun doling out extra money to the states that tie teacher evaluations to test scores. At the same time, NCLB’s harshest penalties for underachieving schools and teachers are about to kick in: By 2014, the law dictates, 100% of public school students must be “proficient” in math and reading. If not, a school can face replacement of its entire staff.

Given the mounting pressure on teachers, principals and superintendents to produce high scores, “no one has incentives to vigorously pursue” testing irregularities, says Gregory Cizek, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who studies cheating. “In fact, there’s a strong disincentive.”

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