Thursday, May 19, 2011

CHEATERS: DC Teachers help students beat standardized tests...

By: Lisa Gartner

D.C. school officials are investigating 14 security breaches by students and teachers during last month's standardized testing, after throwing out last year's scores from three classrooms with "evidence or a strong suspicion of a test security violation."

Amid heightened scrutiny of the chronically troubled school system's large testing gains, the Office of the State Superintendent ordered an investigation into 18 classrooms with a suspicious number of incorrect answers erased and corrected in the 2010 testing.

While eight schools were charters, 10 belonged to D.C. Public Schools -- as did all three of the tossed-out testing rooms.

"Two classrooms had possible testing irregularities and one classroom had a confirmed case of testing impropriety," said Safiya Simmons, a spokeswoman for acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

School officials declined to say what transpired in the classrooms.

Two teachers were forbidden from participating in the 2011 administration of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams, while a third left the school system before the investigation was completed.

DCPS spokesman Fred Lewis said the departure was unrelated to the tests. There was "no student wrongdoing of which I'm aware."

State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said the findings, which clear 15 schools, "confirm our belief in and support for the overwhelming number of students, teachers and staff that work hard and play by the rules."

Investigators found evidence of cheating at Noyes Elementary and "possible irregularities" at C.W. Harris and Leckie elementary schools.

Throwing out those classrooms' scores, OSSE will recalculate whether the three elementary schools made "annual yearly progress," federal benchmarks schools must meet to show improvements in student learning.

D.C. Public Schools officials can choose to appeal the decision by May 27.

Safiya Simmons, a spokeswoman for Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson, said the school system "will continue to move aggressively to take appropriate action, up to and including termination, in cases where any cheating has been confirmed and a teacher acted inappropriately."

A USA Today investigation put a microscope on Noyes, where in just two years, the number of students passing math on the standardized tests increased from 10 percent to 58 percent.

The school's dramatic improvement earned it a National Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education. It's an honor that was given to only 264 public schools nationwide.

But in the 2010 testing round, 80 percent of Noyes classrooms were flagged for having a suspicious number of incorrect answers erased and corrected.

On the 2009 reading test, seventh-grade students in one classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures — odds better than winning the Powerball, USA Today reported.

OSSE tightened security for the 2011 tests, requiring school staffers to report any irregularities, "no matter how minor."

Schools reported 31 incidents between April 4 and April 11 as nearly 40,000 students in 3,800 classrooms took the tests. District officials "deemed adequate" the manner in which 17 incidents were handled by schools.

Reports describe an "inappropriate level of support given to students" during testing, "possible assistance to student," and a test administrator who "mixed up answer documents of two students."

When one student finished his exam in just 20 minutes, he explained that he was "familiar" with the reading passage and questions.

Mahaley declined to say how that was possible.

Mayor Vincent Gray said the investigations do nothing to tarnish former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who "did a great deal."

"We're not looking to continue or detract from her legacy," Gray said. "The results speak for themselves."

Read more at the Washington Examiner: