By Joshua Benton
A Utah company has been hired to investigate the test scores of Texas schools and determine which ones are cheating.
The decision to hire Caveon was prompted by a series of stories in The Dallas Morning News last winter that found highly unusual swings in test scores at some Texas schools. Investigations at some of those schools have found that dozens of educators in Dallas and Houston were improperly helping students with the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS.
“Cheating is a concern,” said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman. She said state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley “doesn’t feel like this is a widespread epidemic. But anyone who is cheating is cheating the student, and that needs to be addressed.”
Caveon will be paid with tax dollars, although it is not being hired directly by the TEA. Instead, it will be a subcontractor for Pearson Educational Measurement, the company TEA pays to run its testing program. Caveon vice president Don Sorensen said he could not say how much the company would be paid.
Caveon will analyze student scores from this spring’s TAKS test and look for unusual patterns.
Examples would include a student whose scores swing from abysmal to stellar in one year’s time or a classroom where all students answer each question in the same way.
“We’re looking to make sure that those who test are doing it right,” Mr. Sorensen said. “We’re seeing more and more testing, and any time there’s a high-stakes test, there’s always that temptation to cheat.”
A News analysis found that nearly 400 Texas schools had suspicious swings in their test scores in at least one grade. The project stemmed out of suspicious scores in the Wilmer-Hutchins district, where one poor elementary school suddenly recorded the state’s best scores on the high-stakes third-grade reading TAKS test.
A state investigation prompted by the stories found that two-thirds of elementary teachers in Wilmer-Hutchins were cheating or otherwise helping students improperly. Their methods included distributing answer keys to students or having brighter students correct the answers on weaker students’ tests.
Caveon is expected to report on its findings to the TEA this fall.