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Report flagged 60 Pennsylvania schools for possible cheating

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Duncan says an emphasis on testing doesn't encourage cheating (AP/Charles Arbogast)

A Pennsylvania government report has found statistical irregularities that suggest cheating on standardized tests may have happened in 60 state schools, according to The Notebook blog.

The irregularities--including erasures from wrong to right answers and improbable gains over the space of a year--do not necessarily mean that cheating occurred. But the state never followed up on the report's findings to ensure that it did not, The Notebook found. In one school, the odds of the wrong-to-right changes occurring naturally were less than 1 in 100 trillion.

The finding comes on the heels of a massive cheating scandal in Atlanta, where more than 80 teachers have admitted to personally erasing and re-filling in answers on their students' answer sheets. Another 38 principals are "implicated" in the cheating in dozens of schools, a Georgia state report found.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education told The Washington Post it is involved in an investigation into whether cheating occurred at D.C. schools under the watch of education reform darling Michelle Rhee. And a USA Today investigation found more than 1,000 classrooms around the country where students made statistically improbable gains on standardized tests over the course of just one year.

Testing is only going to become more central to American schools in the years ahead, however, as many districts and states are rolling out plans to evaluate (and even pay) their teachers based at least in part on how their students perform on tests. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that teachers who confessed to cheating said they were worried about getting fired if their students didn't improve.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is staying on message however, arguing that testing does not encourage cheating and is necessary to ensure schools are adequately educating their students.

"Lots of places are seeing tremendous reform, are moving forward, doing great and doing it the right way," he told the Journal-Constitution. "The saddest thing here is the Atlanta public schools were making real progress. And now that's buried in this story."

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