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  • Test security is no better today than it was 20 years ago.

Put a lot on the line with standardized tests and you’ll have cheating, critics of high-stakes testing say. They point to the scandal in Atlanta. And they cite Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures.”

Education researcher Richard P. Phelps maintains that this isn’t necessarily so. Higher stakes may in fact be leading to less cheating, he says. Phelps has written extensively on standardized testing and is an ardent advocate of it, but also recognizes its limitations. I referred to him in another post last week about high-stakes testing.

Writing in the Wilson Quarterly in 2011, Phelps noted that states and school districts used to buy standardized tests off the shelf, and, to save money, reused them year after year. “Even if educators did not intentionally cheat, over time they became familiar with the test forms and questions and could easily prepare their students for them,” Phelps wrote. This raised scores, which made everyone happy: teachers, administrators, and elected officials could talk about how well their students and schools were doing.