Monday, September 04, 2000

Ohio is in dark on cheating

Alliance school case one of few reported to state

By Kate Roberts
The Associated Press

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        COLUMBUS — Shortly after state proficiency tests in March, a parent of a fourth-grader in Alliance called Stark County education officials to say a teacher had helped students cheat.

        Alliance City Schools Superintendent Art Garnes ordered an investigation, which led to the suspension of two teachers and the principal at South Lincoln Elementary School.

        He then reported the case to the Ohio Department of Education, which has recommended that the two teachers involved have their licenses suspended for one year.

        A hearing officer disagreed, and the state Board of Education will decide this fall.

        The case got statewide attention, but nobody really knows how unusual it was. Ohio's 611 school districts are allowed to handle allegations of cheating on state proficiency tests without notifying the state.

        The Education Department does not have its own system to fer
ret out cheating or keep track of what happens to those who are caught, but sometimes finds out about allegations through notification or news reports, said Marilyn Braatz, spokeswoman for the department's Center for the Teaching Profession. She estimated that the state investigated allegations in six to 10 districts this year.

        Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said the high-stakes nature of Ohio's proficiency tests could give school staff an incentive to cheat.

        Poor performance is not only a public embarrassment, but districts may lose students and get less state aid while having to spend more on remediation.

        The majority of teachers and administrators would never think to help students cheat, said Tom Mooney, former Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president and now president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. But he said the state opens up cheating opportunities by not spending more money on security, such as hiring proctors or outside observers.

        “What other industry do you have where you have these kinds of stakes put on something and then have them administered by those who it will affect? You're just asking for it,” Mr. Mooney said.

        “The real issue is that they're doing this dirty and cheap and quick because it's a political pressure to get these tests in place,” Mr. Mooney said.

        Ohio is better off than some states, he added, because tests are rewritten each year. That keeps students from handing down answers or teachers from drilling them in.

        What constitutes cheating is sometimes a gray area, Mr. Garnes said.

        “If a student comes to me and I look at his answer sheet and he hasn't answered 25 questions and I give him the book back and say, "Go back and finish,' is that cheating?”

        Technically, yes, according to the rules. Testing rules say children only get one chance at the tests, which are timed and supposed to be collected immediately after students finish them.


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