State looks into possible cheating on school tests

Following allegations made by a former fourth-grade teacher, the Nevada Department of Education is looking into possible cheating on statewide tests at Robert E. Lake Elementary School in Las Vegas.

Ramona Johnson told the Las Vegas Sun that she suspected cheating after noticing a discrepancy in the scores of her fourth-grade students on the state-mandated TerraNova test in comparison with the results of the same students the year before on the districtwide test, the curriculum-based assessment program.

She also alleged that she and other teachers had been given a copy of the TerraNova test before the exam date in order to prepare students.

A districtwide investigation revealed one test booklet missing, but the district's spokesperson Mary Stanley-Larsen said there are no indications of cheating.

"Cheating is usually indicated by an unusual jump or hard-to-explain increase in test scores," Stanley-Larsen said. "There was no increase. In fact, there was a decrease."

Stanley-Larsen said the investigation has been difficult because Johnson only spoke with the media and has denied attempts from district officials to discuss the allegations.

"It seems like we have a major TerraNova scandal here and there's not," she said.

Keith Rheault, the state's deputy superintendent, said although it appears that there was no cheating, the state will conduct an investigation based on the Clark County School District's report.

"We will review what they've found," said Keith Rheault. "After the district does its investigation, it is standard that the attorney general conducts its own investigation."

Paul LaMarca, the director of the state's standards, assessment and curriculum division, said the state will not investigate the allegations of cheating on the districtwide test.

"We will only investigate the incident as it relates to statewide testing," he said. "We don't have any jurisdiction over a district-based exam."

The investigation into possible misconduct concerning the district-issued test will be left up to Clark school officials.

"When concerns about any possible irregularities are brought to us, we check them out," Stanley-Larsen said. "We take it seriously. We will do what it takes to maintain the integrity of these tests."

Dorothy Todd, associate superintendent of curriculum in the Carson City School District, said strict measures are taken to prevent any security breeches.

"We are regulated by law to make sure the tests are secure," she said. "We just follow the rules. That's the bottom line."

The rules state that tests must be kept under lock until the day of administration. Every test must be accounted for as it goes out and as it comes back in.

"We do everything possible to make sure they are secure," she said. "The teachers know the consequences and the principals know the consequences."

Rheault said consequences can range from a 10-day suspension to a revocation of the license. He said the most severe punishment handed down has been the 10-day suspension.

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