Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Are D.C. school officials hiding test data?

 Jay Mathews is raising fair questions in DC:

Caveon visited some schools and did some interviews. In nearly every case it accepted as "plausible" the explanations it got from school personnel for the wrong-to-right erasures – for example, that students were trained to check their answers. That explanation makes no sense to me or to several veteran educators I have asked about it. Do third-graders really check their answers and suddenly realize that many are wrong? Or are they just eager to get the test over and go to recess?

Caveon did not interview students or compare students' test scores with their scores on previous tests, which might also have indicated tampering by teachers or principals bent on showing score improvements. A much more thorough Georgia state investigation of test tampering in Atlanta uncovered massive fraud by principals and teachers.

So why not release the D.C. 2011 erasure results now? Is it possible that OSSE officials do not want a repeat of what happened the last time it released erasure results from previous years to reporters for USA Today and to my colleague Bill Turque. The USA Today report last March, which included precise data for more than 100 schools, showed incredible numbers of changed answers. That created widespread doubt about the D.C. results, forced D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to ask the D.C. inspector general to investigate, and created great interest in what the 2011 erasure results would show.

I am sure the results of the new investigation will be interesting when we finally get to see them. But I strongly suspect that anyone able to read this newspaper would be able to provide an intelligent and useful analysis right now of what is going on, if only OSSE would release the data that up to now it has not shown to even its own technical advisers.

I'm certain that Michelle Rhee didn't condone cheating or look the other way, as Beverly Hall did in Atlanta, but I also have no doubt that there was an increase in cheating in DC after she implemented the IMPACT system.  Both the resulting job losses as well as the big bonuses make the incentives to cheat greater in DC than perhaps anywhere, so there needs to be careful monitoring going forward and a full investigation and complete openness about the past few years.  I suspect what we'll find is that there was cheating by a few percent of the teachers (all of whom need to be fired, along with their principals if they knew of or directed this) – but that DC's progress in recent years is very genuine.


Here's what I wrote about this in August (

Here's Michael Winerip (who else?) on the supposed DC testing scandal that Michelle Rhee is supposedly trying to cover up. 

And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.

At the end of March, three of the paper's reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.

In reality, the situation is far more complex than Winerip lets on.  It's an extremely important issue, worthy of real thought and discussion.  First, it's blindingly obvious that if one introduces rewards for good performance and penalties (including loss of job) for poor performance, and the way performance is evaluated is, in part, via tests, then there is strong incentive to cheat on these tests and, given the opportunity, many people will do so.  (Do you think the College Board understands this when administering SATs, achievement tests, AP exams, etc.???)  Therefore, we reformers, as we introduce accountability systems into school systems that previously had none (shocking, isn't it?), need to be VERY conscious of this issue and take strong steps to deter cheating, ideally before it happens (by having rigorous monitoring) and also afterward, by examining erasures, statistical anomalies, etc., thoroughly investigating suspicious activity, and really punishing those who cheat.  Otherwise, we'll get more Atlantas and that would be a DISASTER for reform efforts. 

Despite the fact that union members engaged in the bad behavior and nobody thinks Beverly Hall was a real reformer, deniers like Ravitch are ironically using the Atlanta scandal as a weapon against reform: "You see, this is what happens when you introduce accountability, in part by using tests.  The poor teachers, under so much pressure, have no choice but to cheat."  Could you imagine anyone saying, "We're not going to publish money managers' performance figures because if we did so, they'd have incentive to engage in insider trading."???  No, instead, the SEC carefully monitors insider trading, investigates suspicious activity (including wiretaps, subpoenas, etc.), and puts bad people in jail.  That's what needs to happen in our school systems as well…


Are D.C. school officials hiding test data?

By Jay Mathews

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