Tuesday, May 09, 2017

UK: Student comes up with 'ingenious' way to cheat in university exams

 It may sound like something used by one of Harry Potter’s wayward classmates at Hogwarts, but “invisible ink” has now been revealed by the university ombudsman as the latest university exam scam.

According to the latest annual report by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), a law student was caught red-handed with 24 pages of “unauthorised notes” written in invisible UV ink.

It is thought that the student managed to smuggle a UV light into the exam in order to decipher her invisible notes.

The student had made the invisible notes in her law statute book which she had bought into the exam hall with her, but was caught after being spotted looking at the notes by the invigilator.

The details of the "invisible ink" incident were disclosed in the report, which cited it as a case study of a student who had complained unsuccessfully about the penalty imposed on her for cheating.

It was one of 66 complaints on "academic misconduct, plagiarism and cheating" that were escalated to the OIA last year. Students can appeal to the OIA to review complaints against their university.

The use of invisible ink is the latest instance of students using technology to cheat in exams. Last month MPs and university chiefs called for “intrusive” airport-style searches after The Telegraph revealed that a growing number of students are sneaking tiny in-ear devices into exams that can whisper answers into their ears.

Official data has revealed for the first time that "cheat tech" is on the rise, as hundreds of students have been caught with covert technological devices during tests.

Lord Storey, who has campaigned to ban the rapidly growing industry of professional essay-writing services, said that the use of invisible ink in exams is “very ingenious”.

He said that universities are aware that cheating is a “growing problem” as it affects the credibility of the institution. Lord Storey, who is the Liberal Democrats education spokesman for the House of Lords, added said that students were sometimes “desperate” to do well in exams which can lead them to searching for cheating technology online.

“The number of students is increasing all the time, particularly overseas students,” he said. “Sometimes rich parents are paying the fees and the young person is desperate to do well in exams and make sure money wasn’t wasted”.

Invisible ink sets are available to buy for as little as £2 on internet shopping sites and are often marketed as children’s toys. They can be useful for marking expensive possessions so that they are easier to detect in case they are stolen and sold on.

The ink itself includes phosphors, which emit light when exposed to radiation such as UV light.

Invisible ink has been reportedly used for a variety of crimes in the past, including by gangs passing secret messages to each other.

The al-Qaeda plotter Habib Ahmed, 32, was jailed in 2008 after being caught smuggling code books written in invisible ink into the country.

He was part of a British terror cell that police believe were planning a massacre in Britain.

A spokesman for Universities UK said: “Universities take cheating extremely seriously and have severe penalties for students found to be cheating.

"Academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students being expelled from the university. Universities have become more experienced in detecting and dealing with all forms of cheating."


Teacher Resignation Letters Show Why Public School Teachers (Myself Included) Quit

Faith Moore

I became a conservative after a year teaching 4th grade at a public school in the inner city. Before that, I probably would have said I was a liberal. I wasn’t really interested in politics, but all my friends were liberals, so I figured I must be one too.

When I got my teacher’s license, the first thing I did was go looking for the most challenging teaching situation I could find. I had just completed a two-year Masters program at a prestigious teaching school in New York City and was filled with idealism, determination, and a cocky conviction that I would succeed where so many others had failed. (Think Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds.)

I was a bit of a rarity -- a young, well-educated, idealistic teacher who had come to this failing school of her own accord, not through some program like Teach for America, or the New York City Teaching Fellows. Unlike teachers who, through such programs, had gone straight from college to the classroom, I had a philosophy behind me, a method of teaching, knowledge about child development and how kids learn, and a year of assistant teaching under my belt.

But it was that education and knowledge, bumping up against a failing school system that did me in. When I quit after just one year and went to teach in a private school (a fact I’m not proud of, but which I know without a doubt maintained my sanity), I did it quietly, choosing not to list for the bureaucratic and incompetent principal all the things that were wrong with her school, and the public education system in general. I’m polite (and conflict-averse) so I went quietly. But I had seen enough to know that the system was failing, and I’d developed some pretty clear notions about why.

These days, people will post pretty much anything on social media, and teacher resignation letters are no exception. A study out of Michigan State University has examined 22 of these viral letters and an interesting trend has emerged. One that speaks directly to the reasons I, too, couldn’t stay.

“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children,” one of the letters quoted in the study proclaims. "‘Data-driven’ education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core,” reads another.

It’s not that we shouldn’t require our students to meet certain standards before advancing to the next grade level. Of course we should. And it’s not that we shouldn’t administer tests. We should do that too. There has to be a system of evaluating student progress and supporting students who are falling behind. It’s that we’re expecting all the students to acquire that information in exactly the same way.

See, you can teach a group of children from financially stable homes, with two well-educated parents, who read for pleasure outside of school, and attend a variety of stimulating after school activities, any way you want because (by and large) they’re going to pass the state mandated tests. Teachers in public schools in more affluent communities don’t have to “teach to the test.” They can offer a few periods a week of “test prep” and spend the rest of their time creating and implementing a more creative curriculum that meets the needs of their individual students. All while keeping their federal funding.

But poor students, living in unstable homes, whose parents are uneducated or just plain absent, who are being recruited into gangs and taking care of younger siblings, aren’t going to pass those tests on their own. Which is why schools like the one I taught in have become slaves to the test, implementing rigid “scripted” curricula, focusing only on “test prep” day in and day out, and stifling any attempts to cater to the specific needs of the students.

I’d been hired because of my degree from a school with a very specific teaching philosophy, but every time I tried to implement it in service of teaching my students the things they needed to know in order to pass 4th grade, I was told to stop and get with the program. But the program didn’t work. And the teachers who were achieving the best results were the more experienced ones, who weren’t afraid to close their doors and get on with teaching in the way they thought best.

It’s when I began to believe in school choice. I looked at schools that were achieving success in communities like the one I was working in and I realized that they were all charter schools. Schools that took into consideration the children’s individual situations. Schools like KIPP and the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy which recognized that, in order for children in lower socio-economic areas to succeed academically, they needed a different kind of approach than their more affluent peers. One that took into account the deficits in role models, economics, nutrition, safety, etc. these children were facing.

In the conclusion to the study on teacher resignation letters, the authors write: “These letters give teachers a voice, and their arguments act as counter narratives to the public narrative that schools are failing because teachers are failing to serve the students they teach.” Teachers are failing to serve their students, but it’s because the government bureaucracy of the public education system won’t let them be successful. It chewed me up and spat me out. And it’s done the same to countless others. Don’t you think it’s time for a change?


8 Lessons to Learn From the Failure of Common Core

Education reform is a risky business, and few programs illustrate this better than the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The original idea might have been good, but a multitude of unwise decisions twisted and politicized it until it became one of the least popular reforms in America.

"It's a case of a wasted decade," Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told PJ Media in an interview Tuesday. Hess's new book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer, presents many important lessons for those who wish to reform education in America, and almost all of them would have helped Common Core avoid the disaster it became.

It isn't just conservatives who look askance at Common Core. Many teachers and teachers unions dislike it as well. Hess explained that while Common Core is still on the books in "close to 40 states," the standards themselves do not mean very much. He estimated that Common Core tests are now used "in less than half the country."

Hess actually argued that Common Core today is in a worse position than it would have been in 2010 or 2011. Why? Here are some of the reasons.

1. "Obama Core."

In 2007 and 2008, education reformers realized that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to test kids in reading and math, creating an incentive for states to make their tests easier in order to make schools look better, Hess explained. Reformers wanted to develop an apples-to-apples comparison, and some states agreed to launch Common Core.

but in 2009, President Obama's stimulus package included education spending, and his administration tied education funding to state adoption of Common Core.

What would have been adopted by about 15 or 20 states on their own accord was suddenly adopted by about 40 states — and the final version hadn't even been released yet!

"In some ways, it was the worst of all words," Hess told PJ Media. "It felt like it had been ordered by Washington, states were bribed and coerced into doing it, and it was done in the dark of night."

By making the Common Core a federal program, Obama politicized it — and made it seem imposed by Washington bureaucracy.

In his book, Hess warned that policy can make people do things, but it can't make them do things well. In education, that difference is key. Furthermore, the book warned about the corruption of power. When you're out of power, you tend to be skeptical. When you have it, "it's tempting to use it."

2. Passion blinded Common Core advocates.

Throughout his book, Hess warned about the "perils of passion." The AEI scholar explained that "when we get excited about stuff, it's easy to imagine that everybody is as excited as we are and we put on blinders."

"When the Common Core folks saw everybody they talked to was saying nice stuff about this, they forgot that they were only talking to 1 percent of the country," he explained. Eventually, backers of the program became so convinced in its effectiveness that they felt confident dismissing anyone who was critical of it.

3. Dismissing critics made reform impossible.

When people started realizing what was happening with Common Core — strange math work, a large emphasis on testing — "rather than say 'We went too far too fast,' advocates of Common Core threw gasoline on the fire by saying anybody who had concerns was a wing-nut," Hess explained.

Common Core advocates "did remarkably little over the following three or four years to get out and explain to people what Common Core was, listen to them, and figure it out." This lack of debate prevented reformers from making alterations to Common Core which might have satisfied — or at least addressed — the concerns of teachers and parents.

In his book, Hess warned about the dangers of groupthink. He lamented that most people in education reform tend to be political liberals. Reformers need to continually challenge their ideas by talking to people who disagree with them.

4. Common Core advocates overstated its importance.

Hess noted that part of Common Core's original strategy was to emphasize that the reform involved only reading and math standards.

In 2013, however, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, "I believe the Common Core State standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown verses Board of Education."

This grandiose rhetoric again illustrated the danger of power, Hess warned. Duncan himself once declared NCLB a "broken" law, calling for less Washington control of education. By the end of his time in Washington, this same man was fighting to keep NCLB's federal control of education intact.

5. The limits of data in education.

"When we talked about the Common Core, advocates didn't say 'slightly better reading and math tests,' they said, 'now we can precisely measure whether students and teachers are doing their job well,'" Hess explained. Their emphasis on testing revealed an irrational faith in data.

The AEI scholar explained that teachers and parents want kids to learn about more than just reading and math. "Reading and math scores capture about 30 to 35 percent of what I care about," Hess explained. In his book, he used the example of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, a 2004 book by Michael Lewis turned into a 2011 movie with Brad Pitt.

In Moneyball, baseball manager Billy Beane used a complex statistical analysis to recruit hidden talent. Beane did this by avoiding the most commonly used statistics, such as home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and so on, and focusing on the real measures of talent.

Modern education statistics "are primitive, limited, and often misleading," like the original baseball stats. "Education's moneyball moment awaits the collection of deep, systematic data on the processes of teaching, learning, and school operations," Hess wrote in his book.

6. Minimizing the role of parents.

In 2013, Education Secretary Duncan told state superintendents that "white suburban moms" were rebelling against the Common Core because their kids have done poorly on the tests. "All of a sudden, their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought ... and that's pretty scary," Duncan said.

Dismissing the concerns of parents was not a good idea, as it alienated parents and prevented the possibility of reforming Common Core to make it better suit everyone's needs.

"It's not that reformers ought to feel that they have to give in to this group or that group of parents all the time, but parents usually care a lot more about their kid than reformers," Hess explained. Dismissing parents' concerns is "a surefire way to convince parents that reformers are not working for their child."

7. Overlooking history.

Many reformers get frustrated at the difficulty of changing the school system, but even a cursory understanding of the history of schooling in America explains why reform is so difficult, Hess explained. In his book, he noted that schooling in America grew slowly and was intended to do different things over the centuries.

Because the United States is a huge country and different school districts were established at different times for different reasons, a one-size-fits-all approach that encourages radical changes will run into a great deal of unnecessary problems.

If Common Core advocates understood this, they would have said, "Let's start with the places that get this, that are excited about it, and everybody else is going to see how helpful it is to be a Common Core-aligned state," Hess argued.

Instead of growing Common Core in a few states that were excited about it and willing to make changes, advocates used the federal government to bribe states into accepting it. "That's not a good way to change organizations that are six or eight or twelve generations old," the AEI scholar said.

8. The virtues of school choice.

The best lesson to learn from the failure of Common Core is how to avoid repeating it. Unlike this program, the school choice movement is local. Education reform does best when "focusing on people who want to do it, letting them do it, and growing it in an environment of trust," Hess argued.

The virtue of school choice isn't that it "works" in some nebulous way. Rather, this reform is helpful because it creates a sort of free market in education, which allows reformers, teachers, and parents to "create school communities where teachers want to be there, students want to be there, and where there's a clear vision."

School choice, charter schooling, education savings accounts, and school voucher programs have had to "grow from the ground up in the past 25 years," the AEI scholar noted. Since these initiatives never had a big federal push, they had to develop slowly.

Hess warned that President Donald Trump, by championing school choice from Washington, D.C., would actually harm this important reform. "Having Obama be the pitch man for the Common Core ended up being a huge mistake for the Common Core," he argued. "It became Obama Core," and if school choice "becomes Trump Choice, a lot of hard-earned trust starts to come under the same pressure that Obama created with the Common Core."

The AEI scholar encouraged President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to champion school choice, but only by giving states flexibility to choose federal funds to support it, and to curb regulations that block needed reform.

"What matters in school reform is much more how you do it rather than whether you do it," Hess explained. "No matter how well-intentioned, when the President and Secretary of Education go to the head of the school reform parade, it often creates more problems than it solves."

Freeing up education for local school choice reforms is a great way to achieve reform, because it allows different school districts to adjust in different ways. For more reform tips and some great wisdom from his 25 years in education, read Hess's new book — it's just a short 150 pages!


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