Third Education Group ReviewA peer-reviewed electronic journal.   ISSN 1557-2870

Volume 1 Number 2                                                     November 15, 2005

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The Source of Lake Wobegon

Richard P Phelps, Third Education Group, Inc


John J. Cannell's late 1980's "Lake Wobegon" reports suggested widespread deliberate educator manipulation of norm-referenced standardized test (NRT) administrations and results, resulting in artificial test score gains. The Cannell studies have been referenced in education research since, but as evidence that high stakes (and not cheating or lax security) cause test score inflation. This article examines that research and Cannell's data for evidence that high stakes cause test score inflation. No such evidence is found. Indeed, the evidence indicates that, if anything, the absence of high stakes is associated with artificial test score gains. The strongest predictor of test score inflation, however, appears to be general performance on achievement tests, with traditionally low-performing states exhibiting more test score inflation-on low-stakes norm-referenced tests-than traditionally high-performing states, regardless of whether or not a state maintains a high-stakes testing program. The unsupported high-stakes-cause-test-score-inflation hypothesis seems to derive from the surreptitious substitution of an antiquated definition of the term "high stakes" and a few studies afflicted with left-out-variable bias.

Citation: Phelps, Richard P (2005). The Source of Lake Wobegon. Independent Education Review, 1(2). Retrieved [date] from

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