Records show teachers, students cheating the MAP test system

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JEFFERSON CITY - The last thing a parent or school district wants to hear is that students' tests are invalid due to irregularities, but reports show teachers account for almost half the amount of cheating cases on standardized tests in Mid-Missouri this year.

KOMU 8 News requested records from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and found 18 irregularities reported in the KOMU 8 News viewing area in 2014. DESE recorded 78 total incidents in Missouri.

These irregularities happened during the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP), including Grade-Level and End of Course (EOC) tests. 

"You know it really is unfair to the children in a situation like that because they don't have a situation to demonstrate how much they know," Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro said.

"Irregularities" do not always mean "cheating." Cases range from students working over the designated time on a test, to teachers erasing graphs on students' test booklets.

"I think the kids feel stress, but I think the teachers really feel the pressure to perform," DESE Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator Michael Muenks said.

And Muenks said sometimes cheating is inevitable.

"People who are going to cheat... are going to cheat," Muenks said. "If they feel like their situation is so desperate that they have to cheat, they will cheat."

Below is a time line that shows incidents throughout 2014. (Read more.)



The pressure on teachers could increase if Amendment 3 passes on the November ballot. It would require teachers to undergo evaluations based on their students' standardized test results. Teachers could then be dismissed, demoted or promoted based on those scores.

Amendment 3 would also stop teachers from collectively bargaining over these terms.

"Any time there's increased accountability, there's increased pressure, and especially when that accountability is tied to a single test," Jefferson City Superintendent Dawn Berhorst said.

Knowing this, DESE is working to prevent cheating in the future.

Muenks said, "We've been giving End of Course exams online since 2008, so we have quite a bit of experience there. We're moving Grade-Level online this year. They're going to be computer adaptive, which means every student is getting a slightly different test all the way through, so I can look over at your computer screen, and it isn't going to help me much because we've got different things potentially."

Muenks also said DESE is trying a new process to better detect testing irregularities.

"This year we're starting a process called data forensics, which is where it's more of a look at what happened with the student answer."

This process targets classrooms to find trends between what answers students changed on the test, and how many times they changed answers, to catch cheating quickly.