Palm Beach County students will be asked to take a pledge not to cheat when they sit down Monday to begin the bulk of this year's FCATs.
It's one of several strategies the state is putting in place this school year to try to reduce cheating on its high-stakes standardized exams.
The pledge is simple: "I agree that I will not give or receive unauthorized help during this test. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results."
But the reason the pledge is being put in place underscores the weight and pressure the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test carries for both students and administrators, some experts say.
"This is one of the simplest ways to remind students that academic integrity is a priority over test scores, and to counter the more prevalent message that test scores are the most critical concern of adults," said Tricia Bertram Gallant, a board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity in Clemson, S.C.
Some experts on testing and cheating contend that, as the stakes have climbed for standardized tests, cheating by both students and administrators also has risen.
FCAT scores affect school grades, teacher evaluations, course assignments, and promotion and graduation decisions.
"The real solution is to stop using test results in isolation to make important decisions about schools or kids," said Walter Haney, a professor of education research and measurement at Boston College.
Haney said some research indicates that an anti-cheating pledge might help. Some studies have found that calling people's attention to what is and isn't appropriate in a testing environment can cut down on cheating, he said.
"It can't hurt," John Fremer, founder of Midvale, Utah-based Caveon Test Security, said of the pledges. Caveon has a contract with the state Department of Education to use a "statistical forensic analysis" of test answers to check for a number of factors that could indicate a breach in test security, such as a high number of wrong-to-right erasures, or two students who have a statistically unlikely number of answers in common.
Students will be asked today to sign the pledge or check a box on a computer screen. They aren't required to consent to the pledge, but administrators are supposed to record any refusals "in the event it is needed for an investigation," said Jamie Mongiovi, state Department of Education spokeswoman.
This school year, the state made a few additional no-cheating changes to its guidelines:
- As of this spring, all test administrators must be certified educators. Noncertified school personnel can serve as proctors.
- Beginning last fall, all test administrators are required to record a seating chart that includes such information as a student's name, which way each student is facing, and the names of any administrators or proctors in the room.
- If students are found with any electronic device during testing, their tests will be invalidated. This is not a new policy, but the wording on the policy has been changed to specifically include cellphones and smartphones among the banned devices.
Every year, Florida flags some tests for possible cheating, but unlike other states, it has not been accused of widespread cheating problems.
Last year, the Florida Department of Education flagged 21 schools in 14 counties .
"There seemed to be more pervasive erasures, indicating potential involvement of adults in providing correct answers," interim Education Commissioner John Winn said at the time .
Further investigation cleared some of those schools, including Glade View Elementary School in Belle Glade.
Beginning Monday, Palm Beach County public school students in grades three through 10 will take reading, math and science FCATs, depending on their grade level. The FCAT Writes exam was taken by fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders more than a month ago.