Study suggests score alteration on New York test


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A report co-authored by UC Berkeley School of Law Professor Justin McCrary found that teachers in New York manipulated test scores on the state's Regents Examinations, which determine whether students can graduate from high school.

The report, drafted in February, used statistical data from exams taken between January 2001 and June 2010, finding that many students' scores were likely adjusted to meet cutoff graduation requirements. The report also found that the manipulation of Regents scores existed before the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which uses statewide test scores to determine the performance of schools.

The exams, which the state began using in 1866, are a requirement for students in New York public high schools - students must score a minimum of 65 out of 100 on the exam in order to graduate. In the current system, tests are graded at the high schools, which, according to Jonah Rockoff, an associate professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Business, contributes to the manipulation problem.

The abnormally high prevalence of exams scoring at the minimum cutoff compared to the relatively low number of exams scoring directly beneath cutoff is evidence that scores were manipulated to help students pass, according to Rockoff. The results of the U.S. History and Government portion of the exam, for example, show that 6,412 students scored at 65 while only 395 students received a score of 64.

"You can look at (the graphs of the scores) and it's obvious that something is going on," Rockoff said. "At some level, scores near the cutoff level are being manipulated to help students pass the test."

Rockoff added that the manipulation of scores could affect students' future academic success. Students able to graduate with sub-par scores could face a disadvantage when compared to students who actually pass the test.

"What we're seeing in more recent analysis ... is that (score manipulation) might have long-term implications for kids," he said. "It's an equity issue."

Manipulation near cutoffs was more likely to occur in low-income, inner-city schools, according to Rockoff. The report found that students with limited English proficiency or minority students might be helped more than their peers in score manipulation.

Cleo Palmer-Poroner, a freshman at UC Berkeley who went to public high school in New York, said the results were not surprising considering the demographics of inner-city public high schools.

"In inner-city New York, if you're above a certain income bracket, you don't go to public school unless you absolutely have to," she said. "Rich kids from Manhattan either go to private schools ... or their parents move to the suburbs."

Because of the lack of funding for a centralized grading system for the exams, Rockoff said hiding the cutoff score from teachers grading the exams could help solve the problem. However, he said he understands why teachers might manipulate students' scores.

"A lot of teachers view what they're doing as morally correct," he said. "If you're the teacher of these kids, you're going to try to give them the biggest benefit of the doubt to help them graduate."

Rockoff added that he believes the results of the report could also point to problems outside of the New York public education system.

"I assume some of this manipulation is going on for all kinds of classrooms across the country," he said.

Contact Damian Ortellado at [email protected]

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