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Evidence Builds Of Schools Cheating To Boost Students' Test Scores

"Suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend.

It examined data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, covering 69,000 schools in 14,743 districts and found that:

"Overall, 196 of the nation's 3,125 [or about 6 percent] largest school districts had enough suspect [standardized] tests that the odds of the results occurring by chance alone were worse than one in 1,000."

The newspaper's work adds to that done a year ago by USA Today, which looked at standardized test scores " from about 24,000 public schools in six states and Washington, D.C.," and "identified 1,610 examples of anomalies in which public school classes — a school's entire fifth grade, for example — boasted what analysts regard as statistically rare, perhaps suspect, gains on state tests."

USA Today's figures translate to a little less than 7 percent of the schools that were analyzed.

As the AJC writes:

"The analysis doesn't prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools. ...

"Perhaps more important, the analysis suggests a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation. As Atlanta learned after cheating was uncovered in half its elementary and middle schools last year, falsified test results deny struggling students access to extra help to which they are entitled, and erode confidence in a vital public institution."

There's much more at the newspaper's website, including a national map of districts with test scores that suspiciously improved from one year to the next and a list of eight cities that had "extreme swings in test scores" similar to those due to the "organized cheating in Atlanta."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.