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Going After Cheaters

Going After Cheaters

By Jennifer Toomer-Cook, Deseret Morning News

Sometimes, it’s a matter of text-messaging a picture. Other times, it’s identical wrong answers by a handful of students. But a Utah company is working to sleuth them out: Cheaters.

Be those who cheat on professional licensing exams, or students who team up to cheat on tests used for No Child Left Behind, or teachers who slip answers to students, Caveon Test Security, based in Midvale, works to find them.

The business analyzes test data with computers using probability and other patented data forensics programs to detect potential cheating.

Since 2000, 30 Utah teachers have been investigated for testing protocol violations, according to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, which investigates and recommends discipline to the State Board of Education.

Some of those investigations include incidents where teachers have given students answers, or clues to answers, or extra time to fill in answers, to standardized tests used for No Child Left Behind, attorney and commission investigator Jean Hill said.

“It’s not common, but it certainly does happen,” she said.

However, none of the Utah teachers investigated lost licenses as a result, the commission reports. And associate state superintendent Judy Park says Utah’s school tests are secure. Teachers and principals take annual training and testing ethics courses. Tests must be locked up at all times.

Cell phones are banned during testing, too, said Clyde Mason, assessment director for Jordan School District, the state’s largest. Schools are responsible for every test given to them.

“One of the primary responsibilities of teachers giving the tests is to watch closely to make sure students take tests honestly and accurately,” Mason said.

Utah is not known for widespread cheating problems.

But other states have problems.

“Sadly, the reason we’ve gotten involved with a lot of states is because they’ve had some pretty bad incidents,” said Don Sorensen, Caveon vice president of marketing.

Common breaches include lost or stolen test booklets and kids copying each others’ answer sheets, said Dennis Maynes, Caveon chief scientist. There also have been instances of teachers releasing answers to students, giving questions to students before the test, tampering with answer sheets or coaching students during exams.

How do investigators know?

The company uses data forensics to look for anomalies. Sometimes, it’s an inordinate number of erasures, where answers are changed from wrong to right. Park says the State Office of Education checks for that as well.

Caveon also looks for responses too similar to be believable and for unusually big test-score gains or drops — the latter of which often come after the company starts sleuthing, Maynes said. It also analyzes student responses to detect whether they have pre-knowledge on certain parts of the test.

The idea is to find anomalies and let the clients decide what to do about them, not necessarily assess blame.

“With the current No Child Left Behind legislation, there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure, on educators to perform. And a few — I think it’s a relatively small percent — just succumb to temptation,” Maynes said.

The company works with education departments in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas, the company’s Web site states. Other education clients include the College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance test and Advanced Placement tests commonly taken by Utah students.

Even more clients come from other industries, from health care to construction, that require licensing tests. But by far the bulk of Caveon’s work comes from schools — 5 million tests from Texas schools alone, Sorensen said.

Read more. What to do About Cheating.

© 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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