Does Connecticut need erasure analysis?

In cities like Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia,  a simple tool called erasure analysis has been used to red-flag statistically improbable corrections on standardized tests. The analysis sorts through students’ bubble sheets and tallies up the amount of erasure marks seen on each test sheet, then sorts out which erasures went from wrong-to-right, wrong-to-wrong or right-to-wrong. A high level of wrong-to-right erasures is considered an indication of potential cheating.

In May, I attended a conference at which Jack Gillum, who did much of the database reporting for USATODAY during its investigation into cheating in Washington, D.C. spoke. He spelled out these anomalies in pretty simple terms: The chances of so many incorrect answers being erased and changed to correct answers in one classroom, school building or district was less likely than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. In one case it was about one in four trillion.

Getting that kind of erasure analysis is not necessarily that hard, and reporters might as well give it a try back in their coverage areas, Gillum said.

But in Connecticut, the State Department of Education doesn’t use erasure analysis, for a couple of reasons.

It’s expensive, said Mark Linabury, spokesperson for the Department. He could not elaborate on just how much the erasure analysis would cost, but a report in the New York Times in late August stated that CTB/McGraw Hill checked unusual erasures on all papers in Georgia for $27,000 in 2010.

Also, it might turn up a large number of “false positives,” said CMT Coordinator Steve Martin. That would cost the state time and money to sort through.

Right now, the State relies on districts to come forward if they suspect there is cheating happening in their schools, at which point the state will do such an analysis. In other words, the fox is guarding the hen house.

Should the State take a more active role in ensuring that schools are not cheating? Vote here.

Read more about Connecticut’s system in the Advocate’s story “How to catch a cheater,” first published in Sunday’s paper.

Maggie Gordon