Do Cheaters Ever Prosper? A Lesson From N.Y. Student Tests

April 12, 2016

By Jeffrey Sparshott

Can anything good come of cheating?

A 2011 analysis for The Wall Street Journal showed a bulge in New York City students’ test scores right over the passing mark. The evidence strongly suggested teachers were manipulating grades on statewide Regents Exams and helped spur changes to testing procedures.

Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford University, updated the numbers from his initial analysis after the state took steps to eliminate grade inflation. The findings: Teachers who manipulated scores appear to have been motivated by altruism, score manipulation was eliminated by 2012, and the graduation gap between black and white students is about 5% larger in its absence.

“There are a number of different social goals in play here,” Mr. Dee said. “We may value consistency in scoring procedures as a mark of fairness. On the other hand, we may think as well that proximity to the threshold has a natural variance and if teachers have additional information, that [manipulation] may be a good thing.”