Getting the upper hand in the standardized test system

June 3, 2011, 11:42 a.m. | By Maggie Shi | 12 years, 3 months ago

Blair students take advantage of weaknesses of the SATs and other standardized tests

With the onset of summer, students are dreaming of lazy days by the pool and warm, homework-free nights. But standing between them and the bliss of summer vacation is a formidable obstacle to overcome: exams. Not just final exams, but also standardized ones like the High School Assessments (HSAs), Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT. Teachers, school officials and the College Board seem to have a knack for synchronizing their testing, turning May and June into a two-month testing frenzy.

For most students, this amounts to long nights hitting the books and cramming. But some prefer not to study the material, but rather to study the system itself -- and beat it. Call it what you may -- be it "being resourceful" or "academic dishonesty" -- but where there is testing, there is cheating. Just as tests have changed to become more standardized and administrators have tried to make testing procedure more secure, students have adapted their methods too, finding weak spots in testing procedure to take advantage of. For these students, cheating has become so commonplace it isn't looked down upon or even kept secret -- "it is simply another strategy to get ahead," says Jeff, a senior.

Lost in the crowd

According to the State University Education Encyclopedia, as testing becomes more standardized, the tests students take are becoming more general, meaning more students take the same test. Larger groups make it so proctors are not able to keep track of every test-taker. Daniel, a junior, says that he took advantage of these lapses in attention to sneak outside materials into his HSA test. "During the Algebra HSA, I knew I wasn't going to remember the quadratic formula," he says. "So I wrote that down and tucked it in my hat. When I needed it I just took it out." Daniel says that he did the same on several other tests and has never been caught.

Some students don't just rely on themselves -- they will look to their peers when they don't know the material. Gabriella, a junior, says that during her AP test for NSL, she just looked around at the tests next to her. "I just compared with people around me for multiple choice," she said. "And for free response I looked for people with big handwriting." Simply looking around the room at other papers is fairly common during AP tests, she says. With the large testing rooms, many test-takers and few proctors in each room, Gabriella says that copying off peers' AP tests is relatively difficult to detect.

‘The greatest damage'

Not only do these students sneak in notes or sneak looks at other papers, but they now sneak in technology that gives them access to a wealth of information. Jeff remembers how he used his cell phone's Internet capabilities to cheat on the SAT. He says he got around the SAT reading section, which tests vocabulary, by memorizing the questions and then going to the bathroom to look up definitions.

The ease of access to the internet with cell phones has become a headache to testing officials. According to Blair testing coordinator Debbie Fickenscher, "a cell phone's going to do the greatest damage." They are relatively easy to hide and hard to detect in a large group of kids. "It's easier with technology to get the word out [about what's on a test],” she says. According to Fickenscher, College Board gives its AP and SAT tests on the same day at the same time to try to reduce the instances of students who have already taken the test telling students who have yet to take the test the answers.

Disregarding the rules

These students don't see themselves as committing any particular treacherous crime when they cheat, perhaps because it is so prevalent. According to Daniel, cheating is not looked down upon by his friends but almost treated as a skill. Even after some of his peers were caught, it did not discourage him from cheating; he contends that those who get caught are simply "not doing it right." Gabriella says, "Everyone is okay with it, and they're totally open too. It's accepted." They don't feel much remorse for their cheating, either. "When it comes to school, I feel like I don't have much a conscience," Gabriella says with a laugh. For these Blazers, all that matters is making the grade. As Jeff puts it, "You just have to do what you need to do to get ahead. Simple as that."

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