INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rising concerns about cheating on Indiana’s standardized
tests have prompted the state Department of Education to keep closer tabs on
how the test is administered, including evaluating the number of erased
answers for clues about whether the results may have been manipulated by
The number of investigations into testing irregularities increased to 19
this year, according to The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne. Those include the
biggest breach ever of the ISTEP+ test in March, when an eighth-grade essay
question was posted on Facebook. More than 80,000 students around the state
had their results on that item tossed in a case that involved teachers in
In other cases, teachers allegedly used live test items to practice with
students, created practice problems that matched test questions, taught
lessons specifically geared to test questions or told students to change
Educators say the rising suspicions may reflect a heightened importance for
the test scores, which now affect teacher pay, graduation rates and even
whether the state will take over failing schools.
“If you can’t perform on (the test), you’re in trouble, basically,” said
Stephen Gabet, a newly retired teacher and member of the State Board of
Education. “That has unfortunately put pressure on people.”
Local districts usually investigate cheating allegations and handle
punishment. But Gabet said the education board recently gave the department
permission to create rules on testing security.
“The test means so much now that we are watching a little more closely,”
said Wes Bruce, the state’s chief assessment officer.
A growing concern is the number of erasures in which an answer is switched
from wrong to right. Such incidents have been problematic in districts
across the country, including in Washington, D.C.
Erasures are defined as graphite appearing on more than one testing bubble.
They don’t always indicate cheating — in some cases, a student may have
lightly crossed out wrong answers to eliminate them or misnumbered the
answer sheet. Scanners pick up the remaining graphite.
But an analysis of Indiana’s state’s 2009-10 ISTEP+ tests showed almost 4
percent of the state’s schools were flagged for having at least one
classroom with an excessive number of answers that were changed from wrong
Those included a third-grade English/language arts class in which 23
students out of 25 accounted for 126 erasures. Of those, 104 were answers
changed from wrong to right.
In another case, all 20 students in a third-grade math class had at least
one erasure. All but four of the 125 erasures changed answers from wrong to
Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association,
acknowledged that teachers are feeling more pressure to perform. But he said
that doesn’t translate into “widespread cheating.”
Bruce agreed that most Indiana schools were well within statistical
boundaries and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
“My concerns are it’s statistical and not clear-cut,” he said. “We didn’t
want to be on a witch hunt. We don’t know that that teacher actually
He said about 90 of the state’s 2,400 schools were sent informational
notices about questionable classes.
Steven Yager, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, said one of
Southwest’s best teachers was flagged for having high erasures. An internal
analysis showed the teacher regularly prompted children to use extra time to
review answers and that the principal proctored with that teacher the day of
Though that teacher wasn’t involved in cheating, Yager said the erasure
analysis is probably beneficial.
“When teachers know it’s a possibility, they will toe the line,” Yager said.
“Maybe we should have been doing this all along.”