ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York state officials say cheating on state Regents exams is a growing concern but just a fraction of the cases are being discovered as the tests are being used more to evaluate schools and teachers.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. says New York's system is missing many more cases in public, private and public charter schools. He is expected to announce on Monday several measures aimed at discouraging and catching cheats.
Cheating is often reported by students and parents, officials say, and the number of confirmed cases remains a fraction of the 222,000 teachers in the state's classrooms. Data obtained by The Associated Press shows just 50 cases were confirmed in the 2009-10 school year and 41 in the 2010-11 school year.
The data gives an incomplete picture of a problem that also concerns the state teachers' union.
Records obtained by The AP under the state Freedom of Information Law 7/8- and released by the state on Friday in advance of the Monday announcement - show cheating includes prompting a student to erase and re-do answers during a math Regents exam to accepting simple "qui" and "non" answers to teachers' questions on a French exam, instead of the required robust conversations.
The reports show the cases are also difficult for the small staff of the state education department to prove. Many cases involve erasures on tests with correct answers with no evidence of what motivated students to make the changes.
Cheating on Regents exams can frustrate parents and students who have seen all scores "expunged" because of cheating, forcing even students who had nothing to do with cheating to re-take the exams in the summer or the following year.
The state data doesn't detail how often all scores are expunged, forcing retaking of tests, but some records do specifically refer to the expunging of all scores and a retaking of the tests. Most often, teachers are directed to get more training and no longer score their own students tests. In few cases, teachers are disciplined, but the outcomes aren't provided in the state reports.
In 2009, the Rome City School District's administration working with state inspectors investigated how the June 2009 math test was administered.
The district found students reported "many instances of unauthorized aid," with teachers "coaching or helping students," and that some students made erasures during the test - but the teachers denied the claim. Two teachers weren't allowed to proctor future exams until they received more training and students were allowed to take only a pass/fail grade or retake the test in August of that year.
On Long Island this fall, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who prosecuted a college student using a fake ID to take SAT college board exams for six friends, says she suspects widespread cheating on the tests.
In October, Georgia revoked the teaching licenses of eight Atlanta teachers and three school administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools, the first sanctions in one of the nation's largest school cheating scandals. A state investigators' analysis of erasures showed 178 educators were involved, 38 of them principals. Superintendent Beverly Hall retired just days before the inquiry results were released. She denied any involvement.
Cheating investigations have also been undertaken recently in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
In New York, the state Regents exams have grown in number and importance in the last decade as requirements for graduation, tracking the performance of schools and in new teacher evaluations.
"When I first started, preparation for proctoring the Regents exams was done with care to preserve the integrity of the test as an accurate assessment," said Brian Dorph, who taught 10 years in public schools. "Recently that procedure has been eroded by pressures from the administration to pass students, to increase graduation rates."
Dorph, now a tutor, took a settlement after years of fighting a charge of incompetence in New York City schools. He said leaving the public school system gives him the freedom to be a whistleblower to defend the scruples he said he tried to instill in classrooms. State records include his 2009 e-mail detailing instances where he observed teachers change multiple-choice answers. He said a "1" could be easily altered by a teacher to a "4," carrying a red marking pen for scoring in one hand, and black ink pen in the other to change some of the students' answers before scoring.
Dorph said cheating by teachers was common if a student was within 5 points of the passing grade of 65 in Regents exams - sometimes to give a kid a break, sometimes to improve the teacher's pass rate, sometimes simply to shuffle a problem student to another grade.
Those types of cheating are also identified in the New York reports on other schools. Records showed multiple-choice questions and math questions were often the subject of accusations and that inflated grades on essays were also investigated.
King is expected on Monday to order changes to protect the "integrity" of state tests.
"This is something we are very concerned about," King said in an interview. "We know our current procedures are not sufficiently robust to identify all the testing integrity violations."
On Monday, he will announce more Regents exams will be analyzed for erasures that can indicate cheating. Additional plans call for analysis of "error patterns" and answers to open-ended questions that might show a student received a correct answer for a concept he or she clearly didn't know. Soon, won't be allowed to grade their students' tests.
Regents exams will ultimately be taken and scored on computers, possibly as early as 2014, he said.
The state's largest teachers' union also recognizes the concern.
"Teachers and their union have no tolerance for cheating," said Carl Korn, spokesman for the New York State United Teachers Union. "However, it's also fair to ask whether the increase in cheating is a byproduct of the high-stakes testing that we know live in.
"That pressure of high-stakes testing is only going to increase with new teacher and principal evaluations in which a person's career and livelihood could hinge on the performance of 25 8-year-olds," Korn said.
"While there is excuse for test tampering, it's easy to see how it's a natural byproduct of the high-stakes testing culture," Korn said.
In New York's high schools, the number of cases rose from 13 in 2002-03 to 60 in 2009-10 and to 40 in 2010-11, hitting 60 twice during the period. In elementary schools, the cases increased from 12 in 2002-03 to 51 in 2010-11, with a high of 53 in 2006-07 and a low of six in 2003-04.
The concern isn't new.
In 2003, The Associated Press cited hundreds of New York state Education Department documents in stories that showed cheating by New York teachers and testimony by teachers that the issue was ignored or covered up by colleagues. As a result, the state Education Department started requiring principals to sign certificates stating that they found no evidence of cheating.