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Erasure analysis on state test uncovered signs of tampering
February 16, 2005

When the Texas Education Agency took a hard look at the high-stakes tests taken by the state's schoolchildren, evidence of cheating was uncovered.

Written by Holly K. Hacker, The Dallas Morning News

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When the Texas Education Agency took a hard look at the high-stakes tests taken by the state's schoolchildren, evidence of cheating was uncovered.

That was in 1999, when, in an unprecedented move, the agency examined erasure analysis reports on an achievement test given to the state's students at the time.

Based on those results, the TEA identified 11 school districts with unusually high numbers of wrong answers that had been erased and corrected on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. The erasure analysis followed a 1998 investigation that found tampering with test results in the Austin Independent School District.

TEA turned to the school districts to investigate themselves and report back. The scope of those inquiries – and the results – varied. Some school districts conducted exhaustive reviews and produced lengthy reports. Others issued terse reports that found no wrongdoing.

Why, for example, were there an unusually high number of erasures at an elementary school in the Clint Independent School District near El Paso?

One explanation offered by Clint officials: "The majority of the teachers indicated that 'cute' erasers were provided to students, and that the erasers encouraged students to find reasons to erase."

Clint declined TEA's offer to look at the actual test booklets and answer sheets that raised questions about excessive erasures, explaining that they were not really sure "what type of evidence they would be looking for other than 'stray marks' – which provide no real evidence of wrongdoing."

Dallas Independent School District's 1999 investigation found evidence of testing irregularities at two of the three schools at which TEA found erasure anomalies.

In another case, Fort Bend ISD officials cleared two schools of test tampering but found "substantial evidence that two teachers at Ridgegate Elementary engaged in test tampering."

The Houston school district reported that it had almost completed an investigation of its own before receiving a request from the TEA to conduct an internal review, but it expanded its inquiry. The district concluded that erasure data suggested that tampering took place but also uncovered irregularities such as three teachers at different elementary schools "verbally prompting" students.

Testing irregularities also were found in the North Forest ISD near Houston. School officials traveled to Austin to examine test booklets and answer sheets.

"Despite the fact that no teacher or principal admitted any wrongdoing, the evidence gleaned from the visit to TEA and the data obtained therein clearly suggests that the integrity of the test has been compromised," the district concluded in a letter to the TEA.

Officials in Midland reported no admission of guilt and no evidence of cheating "other than the statistically high number of erasures."

"I am not sure what else we could do in the way of investigating, but unless you have specific suggestions, this concludes MISD's investigation," a school official wrote to TEA.

In all, seven districts reported no wrongdoing or failed to reach any conclusions about what happened. Four districts found some evidence of cheating.

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