By Sally Absher

In what some are calling yet another assault on Tennessee educators, the Tennessee Department of Education (TN DOE) has adopted a new method of detecting cheating on Tennessee’s most important standardized assessment, the TCAP. The State calls this its “erasure analysis.”

Tri-Cities News Channel 11 (WJHL) reported that this led state leaders to question potential security breaches in almost every school system in Northeast Tennessee. In fact, a total of 119 school districts in the state were flagged in an analysis of 2014 TCAP exams. There were 140 districts in the state in 2014.

Dr. Julia Lamons with the Greene County School District told WJHL that she first heard about “erasure analysis” last spring in an email she received late Friday afternoon before the beginning of the 2015 TCAP exam week, a notification that her district had been identified as having had a potential security breach in the 2014 TCAP testing.

Stephen Smith, Deputy Commissioner with TN DOE, told WJHL, “What you’re looking at are situations where you have more erasures than the average.” Specifically, test examiners looked at every exam for an above average number of wrong answers which were erased to correct answers.

The department divided the districts with above average “erasures” into four groups depending on the number of answers changed from wrong to right.

Ashley Ball, TN DOE spokesman explained the four categories of districts identified in the TCAP analysis:

The erasure analysis created four categories of districts; there are four categories: SD 2-3, SD 4, SD 4+3 Calculations, and SD 4 (Audit). Below are definitions for each category.

SD 2-3: the wrong-to-right erasures are two to three standard deviations from the mean

SD 4: the wrong-to-right erasures are four standard deviations from the mean

SD 4+3: the wrong-to-right erasures are four standard deviations from the mean, and the wrong-to-right percent is 75 percent or greater

SD 4 (Audit): the wrong-to-right erasures are four standard deviations from the mean, the average erasure in the class is greater than 3.5, and the wrong to right erasure rate is greater than 69%

Three districts – Shelby, Robertson, and Williamson Counties – were informed they’d be audited by the State because of the number of erased wrong to right answers.

A total of 19 Districts are on the SD 4+ list, including the Achievement School District, Davidson County (Nashville), Hamilton County (Chattanooga), and Knox County.

Surrounding Oak Ridge City, Anderson County, Blount County, Jefferson County, Roane County, Sevier County, and Tennessee School for the Deaf, among many others, are on the SD 4 list. View the list at

Smith said the erasure analysis was conceived and implemented as a way of helping districts ensure accuracy in their testing process. He said that the 2014 erasure analysis has uncovered no evidence of TCAP cheating so far. An audit of districts with the highest rate of erased answers is still underway, he said.

But Lamons said the letter from the State on the eve of the 2015 TCAP testing “caused some undue stress.” She added, “They later apologized for the way it was communicated.”

As the TCAP transitions to the online “TNReady” assessment next year, we wonder what’s next? “Delete/Insert” analysis? “Copy/Paste” analysis? And speaking of paste, again we decry the loss of essential related arts to make time for this completely unnecessary, ineffectual reliance on high stakes testing in the first place.