Cheating our children: The story behind the story
Here's the backstory on the how the journalists got the data and did the analysis. Shame on the states (and DC) who balked at providing the data!
A team of three reporters and two database specialists spent five months collecting databases of standardized test scores in those grades for 69,000 schools, in 14,743 districts in 49 states. (The 50th, Nebraska, didn't have usable data because it didn't give a statewide standardized test until last year.)
The law requires school districts to give parents an annual "report card" on school performance, and all states have laws requiring disclosure of public information. We thought that would expedite data collection.
Some states, including Texas and California, post online the data we needed. Most states sent data within days or even hours. A few were more challenging. We called state education departments and made formal open records requests. Some states required months of negotiating and multiple requests before they sent data.
New Mexico said the request was "burdensome" and took two months to send data.
Nevada called it an "annoyance" and took almost three months. When a reporter told an assistant attorney general that Nevada was the only state that hadn't provided data, the attorney quoted TV's "Seinfeld": "Yada yada yada."
Alabama education officials insisted they had posted the scores online. When they realized that was untrue, they offered to provide the data for $3,200, but finally sent it without charge two months after the original request. In the end, no state charged for the data.
District of Columbia education officials didn't answer many of our weeks of daily phone calls; emails describing the data requested were repeatedly shuffled to other employees. After three months, officials sent incomplete data. The district is not in our analysis because of methodology issues (see "Analysis limitations" below).
By AJC staff
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's analysis of test scores led to the state investigation and 2011 findings of widespread cheating in Atlanta schools, a national testing expert suggested we could do the same thing on a nationwide scale. We were intrigued.