Failed Test

State exams


Teachers in New York have been systematically manipulating students' scores on high-stakes testing.

High school students must pass the New York State Regents Examination to graduate. But when a team of researchers led by Stanford's Thomas S. Dee looked at scores in New York City, they found that from 2004 to 2010 the decentralized grading system made it easy for teachers to nudge students' numbers upward. At some schools, teachers inflated scores across the board—likely looking to improve their own performance reviews. At others, teachers tended to bump students who appeared to have underperformed on the test compared to subjective assessments, GPA, and behavioral measures.

All this fiddling with test scores may have closed the black-white achievement gap by as much as five points, as well as pushing many students who would not otherwise have graduated over the finishing line. The study, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that teachers altered nearly 40 percent of scores that were right below the cutoff, a group that is disproportionately black and Latino. At the same time, white and Asian students who fell just short were more likely than their black and Latino counterparts to see their scores fudged, suggesting that the racial implications of score manipulation cut both ways.