Last July, a scandal erupted in Atlanta when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released a report stating that at least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests. The investigation was initiated by reports published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about statistically improbable jumps in test scores within the Atlanta public school system. This week, the AJC released a report that analyzed the test scores of school systems nationwide. The result? Hundreds of school systems show similarly improbable patterns in test scores, indicating the possibility of a national cheating scandal.

The newspaper's investigation looked at test scores for 69,000 public schools across the country. Reporters found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast, with test score patterns in roughly 200 school systems resembling those in Atlanta that were later confirmed to be the result of cheating. To be clear, the report itself doesn't prove that there is cheating in these school systems, but it does warrant a closer look at school systems where test score patterns are suspicious.

Overall, 196 of the nation’s largest school districts had test results that were unusual enough that the odds of the results occurring by chance (or good teaching) alone were worse than one in 1,000. For 33 of those districts, the odds were worse than one in a million. And even though high-poverty city schools were the most likely to have suspicious test score patterns, improbable scores also showed up in an exclusive public school for the gifted on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in a rural school district in Illinois with one school, dirt roads and a women’s prison.

A few of the districts analyzed are already facing cheating accusations, but for most, there has been little to no concrete proof that widespread cheating was occurring. Until now.

So would you be surprised if these "suspicions" are proven to be accurate? If there is, in fact, widespread cheating on standardized tests — not just within one school system, but within hundreds of school systems across the U.S. — I wouldn't be surprised. And to me that's just one more indication of a system that is broken on all levels.

The federal government requires these tests. It rewards schools that show improvement and fines or cuts jobs at those that don't. Teachers can teach their hearts out all year long, but come testing day, if they know certain students aren't going to pass, why would they let these students do poorly when they know it could cost them their jobs? When test scores are produced, there is no federal screening for anomalies, nor are there investigations into suspicious patterns that do occur. And school districts themselves have no incentive to uncover cheating within their schools.

It kind of creates the perfect setting for cheating, don't you think?

Cheating our kids with standardized tests
Newspaper investigation reveals cheating on standardized tests may be more common — and problematic — than you would think.