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Illinois looks for possible cheating on ISATs

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Illinois looks for possible cheating on ISATs

WBEZ/Linda Lutton

The Illinois State Board of Education has launched a statewide investigation into possible cheating on standardized tests. The analysis, dubbed by state officials as “proactive,” comes as other states grapple with widespread, systematic cheating by teachers and principals trying to boost their schools’ scores.

Illinois is reviewing every answer sheet from the state ISAT tests that elementary students took last spring. The Illinois Standards Achievement Test is given to students in grades three through eight.

The so-called “erasure analysis” will look for instances in which improbably high numbers of answers were changed from wrong to right. Officials are also scrutinizing schools or classrooms that have implausibly high gains from one year to the next. And they’re hunting for strange patterns, such as classrooms of students who get the difficult questions correct but miss the easy ones.

The same type of analysis uncovered extensive cheating in Atlanta schools and has raised red flags in Philadelphia. In Atlanta, investigators discovered organized efforts by teachers and principals to change wrong answers on children’s tests; the cheating went back as far as a decade.

Matt Vanover, a state board spokesman, says Illinois state schools superintendent Christopher Koch ordered the exhaustive analysis last spring, though it wasn’t publicized at the time. Vanover says Koch was being proactive.

“This was basically a natural progression of the process we have for quality control,” Vanover said.

Until now, the state has relied on complaints and “self-reporting” to find cheating. Vanover said four school districts came to the state board this spring after conducting local investigations that found test results had been manipulated in some way. The state is still reviewing those cases, but if it determines cheating occurred, the guilty educators’ teaching certificates could be revoked, Vanover said.

In 2010, three districts came forward to say they’d discovered cheating.

The statewide analysis of standardized tests should be completed later this year, Vanover said.

The investigation comes as Illinois is poised to put more emphasis on student test scores. Teachers in the state are scheduled to be evaluated based on student achievement, and hiring and firing decisions will be made on those evaluations.

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