The Devaluation of Test Scores

By Dennis Maynes, Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

I believe that there is one and only one reason people cheat on tests and why some people pressure others to cheat or ignore cheating on tests. They want to gain an unfair advantage. They don’t want to pay the price that is required to learn the material. They are seduced into taking the easy road. Cheaters may claim no one is hurt by their actions, but that is a complete lie. When they are successful, the test score is devalued. As an example of this, I read an article in The Telegraph (UK) with great interest recently: “The expats who engineered their fake degrees in Saudi”.

The Saudi Council of Engineers estimates there are 15,000 foreign engineers working in Saudi Arabia’s construction industry who hold false academic qualifications. These fake degrees can be purchased for about $400. According to the article, “Major concerns surround the safety of Saudi Arabia’s new buildings and schools.”

Just this past week, an eight-story building in Bangladesh which housed several garment factories collapsed. The death toll has exceeded 370, with more than 800 still missing. The owner of the building was arrested in flight. Notably, the structure didn’t meet building code requirements, was never approved by the government and was built on a wetland using substandard construction materials. Read this article in the LA Times, April 28, 2013, Owner of collapsed building in Bangladesh is arrested.

Yes, competent engineering matters. We measure competence through certificates, licenses, and diplomas; all of which are based on tests.

Not only that, when cheaters get hired, some honest individual somewhere doesn’t. This devalues the test score for that person.

In addition to construction, there is concern in Saudi Arabia over the 1,000 public health sector workers with false qualifications. Hospital administrators have been attempting to reassure patients they were not put at risk.

Efforts to establish fair and valid testing are increasing. Psychometricians in this country are putting more emphasis on trustworthy test results. At NCME this past week, there were two sessions on test security with standing room only. The fact is, when test scores are devalued the entire investment in creating the credentials, writing and validating the test, and reporting the test results is undermined, just like the eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh that was built on a wetland.

On June 24, 2011, US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, called upon the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to “do everything you can to ensure the integrity of the data used to measure student achievement and ensure meaningful educational accountability.” He urged the CCSSO “to make assessment security a high priority by reviewing and, if necessary, strengthening your efforts to protect assessment and accountability data, ensure the quality of those data, and enforce test security.” Read the entire letter here.

We simply cannot allow test scores to be devalued. If we do, our entire system of credentialing, accreditation, and licensing will be in danger of collapse.



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