Faking the Grade: Day 1 sidebars and graphics


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Here are some of the Texas schools with the strongest evidence of substantial TAKS cheating, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis:

Forest Brook HS, North Forest ISD

Forest Brook High is in the long-troubled North Forest district, where eight of its 11 campuses have state ratings of unacceptable and state officials have appointed an overseer for the district’s finances. Forest Brook had the highest rate of apparent cheating of any large noncharter school in the state. Across all grades, just over 13 percent of the school’s answer sheets were flagged in 2005.

Forest Brook is also home to one of the most extraordinary performances in Texas: the 11th-grade science test in 2005. Half of the students’ answer sheets were flagged for cheating: 93 of 186. Forest Brook’s passing rate jumped from 54 percent the previous year to 95 percent in 2005.

Worthing HS, Houston ISD

The suspicious answer sheets are spread wide at Worthing. There were eight different TAKS subject tests on which more than 10 percent of Worthing’s answer sheets were flagged as likely cheaters. The most suspicious: last year’s 11th-grade science test, on which one-third of the school’s answer sheets were flagged. That’s 47 out of 141. Worthing’s passing rate in that subject was up 23 percentage points from the year before.

Sam Houston HS, Houston ISD

In 2005, Sam Houston High had more suspicious answer sheets than any other school in Texas – 468 in all. Every version of the TAKS test taken at the school had at least a dozen answer sheets flagged for cheating. The school did better in 2006, with the number of suspicious answer sheets dropping to 161. But that still left it with the 15th-highest total in Texas.

South Oak Cliff HS, Dallas ISD

South Oak Cliff had 439 answer sheets flagged over the two years The News examined. That’s almost one out of every 10. The cheating was greatest on the 11th-grade science and social studies exams, where 18 percent of the answer sheets were flagged.

Note: Charter schools are not included.


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Accountability system: The state process that assigns ratings to Texas schools. Ratings are based almost entirely on test scores. From best to worst, those ratings are exemplary, recognized, acceptable and unacceptable.

Answer string: The responses a student gives to all of the questions on a multiple-choice test, such as the TAKS. On the TAKS, the answer choices alternate between questions: A, B, C or D, then F, G, H or J.

Caveon: A test-security firm that helps organizations improve the security of their exams. The Texas Education Agency hired Caveon in 2005 to analyze its TAKS scores; when Caveon identified 700 schools with suspect scores, agency officials said Caveon’s results were unreliable.

Charter school: A publicly funded but privately run school. Charter schools face fewer regulations than traditional public schools. Collusion: When students work together improperly during a test. There is strong support in the academic literature for the statistical detection of collusion; other types of cheating detection methods, such as those that count the number of erasures on answer sheets, have less support.

Flagged pair: Two students whom a statistical analysis has identified as having answer sheets extremely similar to one another. Cheating detection methodologies look for cases where the similarity is so great and so unlikely that the chances of it occurring naturally are very small.

Frary, Harpp, and Wesolowsky: Drs. Robert Frary, David Harpp, and George Wesolowsky, three cheating researchers who assisted with The News’ analysis. Dr. Wesolowsky’s methodology and computer program were used to perform the analysis. Dr. Harpp, using a different detection method, did a separate analysis of several dozen Texas schools. Dr. Frary examined the results.


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A Dallas Morning News analysis of TAKS scores found tens of thousands of students cheating across the state.

Today: Cheating is systemic in some schools – including some that recent TEA investigations have cleared.

Monday: The worst cases of cheating are concentrated in the state’s least regulated campuses: charter schools.

Tuesday: Cheating could be stopped – or at least reduced – if Texas improved the quality of its test security.

Diffuse pressure, defuse problem?

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Texas may have an inventive way to end cheating on the 11th-grade TAKS test:

Just end the 11th-grade TAKS test.

A bill passed by the Legislature last month would eliminate all of the high school versions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. They would be replaced by a series of 12 tests that would be tied to the content of specific high school courses, like algebra I, biology and U.S. history.

Students would be required to earn an average score of 70 on the three tests they take in each of the tests’ four major subject areas – math, English, social studies and science. The new tests would debut with the freshmen who enter Texas high schools in 2011. Students will have chances to retake each of the tests.

In one way, the tests will increase the pressure on students. The results of the tests will count as 15 percent of the student’s class grade. For freshmen and sophomores, those are much higher stakes than the TAKS, which in most districts counts for little to students.

But the main impact should be to distribute the must-pass pressure – currently concentrated in 11th grade – to all of high school. That could reduce the temptation to cheat in 11th grade a bit, but raise it in other grades.

The bill awaits Gov. Rick Perry’s signature.