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What GAO Found

According to our nationwide survey of state testing directors, all states reported that their policies and procedures included 50 percent or more of the leading practices to prevent test irregularities in the following five areas—security plans, security training, security breaches, test administration and protecting secure materials. Additionally, of the 28 states that administered computer-based assessments, the majority reported including half or more of the leading practices in computer-based testing. However, states varied in the extent to which they incorporated elements of certain categories of leading practices. For example, 22 states reported having all of the leading practices for security training, but four states reported having none of the practices in this category. Although state officials reported having a variety of security policies and procedures in place, many reported feeling vulnerable to cheating at some point during the testing process.

States reported using various tools, such as statistical analyses of student data, monitoring, and audits of testing procedures, to oversee districts’ implementation of test security policies and procedures, and most states have used this oversight to identify cheating in recent years. For example, officials in 40 states reported allegations of cheating in the past two school years, and officials in 33 states confirmed at least one instance of cheating. Further, 32 states reported that they canceled, invalidated, or nullified test scores as a result of cheating.

States reported receiving assistance with test security from several sources, with testing contractors being the most frequent source of support. States also identified areas where additional assistance with test security would be useful. In particular, officials from the majority of states reported that it would be very or extremely useful if Education gathered and disseminated information on best practices in test security. After our survey was administered, Education released a report—consisting largely of the opinions of experts and practitioners—that discussed best practices and policies related to testing integrity.

Why GAO Did This Study

Because state assessments—which the U.S. Department of Education (Education) has supported with over $2 billion since 2002—serve as the basis for school accountability and allocation of resources for targeted interventions, we prepared this report under the authority of the Comptroller General to conduct work on GAO's initiative.

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