Familiarity boosts cheating

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Critics of the School Board’s testing program have charged that the board’s periodic reuse of old forms of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills prompts teachers to teach actual test questions and, thus, inflates scores.

A new statistical analysis has concluded that recycling a test does, indeed, increase incidents of cheating by 25 percent on the reading test and 10 percent on the math test. However, the over-all level of cheating detected by the analysis is low, only 2 percent of classrooms in grades 3 through 8.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to use these tests over and over,” says U. of C. economist Steven Levitt who co-authored the analysis.

Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen says the school system has no choice since the makers of the ITBS do not come out with a new form each year.

Donald Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, believes Levitt’s analysis understates the impact of test familiarity because it looks only for systematic cheating at the classroom level. “Even if they teach kids just one item on the test, that can add one to four months to your reading score,” he says.

Designs says the ITBS given in spring 2001 had been used seven times since 1994.

Elizabeth Duffrin