"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Four Missouri School Districts Indicate Suspicious Test Scores According to Atlanta Journal Constitution

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution has written an in-depth investigation about the Atlanta public school cheating scandal by the superintendent, principals, and teachers.   The scandal stems from cheating of educators as job accountability is now determined from student scores.  The AJC also uncovered some questionable testing results from other states.

The newspaper writes in a follow-up article:

Suspicious test scores in roughly 200 school districts resemble those that entangled Atlanta in the biggest cheating scandal in American history, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

The newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found high concentrations of suspect math or reading scores in school systems from coast to coast. The findings represent an unprecedented examination of the integrity of school testing.

The analysis doesn’t prove cheating. But it reveals that test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.

Here is a link taking you to an interactive map of districts nationwide with scores resembling Atlanta's inconsistent test scores.  The red circle (districts noted as "A") indicates:
Posted: 29 Mar 2012 01:25 PM PDT
The the following was also posted on the National School Boards Assocation’s Center for Public Education blog, The Edifier.
Articles this past weekend by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) and the Associated Press  strongly suggest the answer is yes.  AJC attempted to answer this question by analyzing state standardized test scores from all 50 states to identify districts and schools that had statistically unusual fluctuations in their year to year test scores which is an indicator that cheating may be taking place. Although the unusual fluctuations do not prove there was cheating it does point to the strong possibility that cheating is in fact taking place. As a matter of fact, the newspaper used a similar methodology in 2009 which helped uncovered extensive cheating in Atlanta public schools.

But is cheating as prevalent across our public schools as the articles strong imply? The answer is quite simply no. When you actually look at the data from AJC you see that about 200 out of the nearly 15,000 school districts (which includes charter school districts and other special districts) analyzed by AJC had suspicious test scores like those found in Atlanta. This represents just 1.3 percent of all school districts nationwide. Keep in mind, even within these districts most schools showed no signs of cheating.

In fact, when AJC calculated how many individual students were likely to be directly impacted by cheating, just a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of the 13 million students examined were enrolled in the grade level within the schools where cheating likely took place.

Of course any cheating at the school or district level is not acceptable but the data does show that the AJC’s assertion that the results “…suggest a broad betrayal of schoolchildren across the nation” is not only overblown but outright wrong.  In fact their data shows that cheating is limited to a small proportion of districts and even smaller proportion of students nationwide. So parents and the general public should be confident that teachers and administrators in close to 99 percent of districts act in an ethical and professional manner.

Does this mean cheating shouldn’t be a concern? Of course not.  More work needs to be done by state and district leaders to ensure that the integrity of the test results are not compromised and that struggling students are appropriately identified so they receive the support and resources they need to actually improve their performance.  In the case of the districts identified in the article they need to look further into the data to determine if in fact cheating is going on in their schools. Or whether the fluctuations are due to highly effective instruction in high scoring grades and ineffective instruction in following low scoring grades. Either way, districts need to know why there are such fluctuations so they can either eliminate any cheating or focus on improving instruction in grades where test scores drop.

While statistically large fluctuations in scores indicates a strong possibility of cheating, as anyone who has seen the movie Stand and Deliver, great teaching can lead to unpredictable increases in student achievement. And those teachers should not be considered guilty until proven innocent. But it also doesn’t mean that such indicators of cheating should be ignored either.  Either way, the actual data shows that cheating is limited to a small number of schools nationwide contrary to what the AJC and Associated Press articles imply.

If your district (as mine does) appears on the "A" list of questionable scores, your school superintendent and school board should advise the taxpayers of that district the methodology used in its testing results and explain testing procedures in the district.   If cheating is indeed limited to a small number of schools nationwide as School Board News contends, taxpayers still should require an investigation to determine if their district test scores are indeed valid.

 Testing irregularities similar to the Atlanta pattern cause concerns for taxpayers and parents.  If accountability for teacher and administrator jobs depend on student scores, this sort of testing irregularity may occur more frequently in the future.


  1. One point on Special School District.

    I would imagine such a district would have weird results patterns. It serves students who have special educational needs. Every student is under an individual education plan. And the district's population changes a lot.

    Given the dedication and quality of the teachers in SSD, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some students perform remarkably better year to year. And the dynamic population would lend itself to wide shifts in results.

    For the record, a loved one works in SSD, and children of mine have received its services.

    1. Bill,

      I have a child who also received services from SSD and believe most of the SSD employees are dedicated to helping the students. There are a few in every organization that parents don't see eye to eye, but by and large, the teachers/administrators we had experience with were a professional group.

      I am worried, however, that with the accountability of teachers/administrators jobs based on testing scores, this could be a powder keg for testing results. I have heard from special ed teachers who just shake their heads at some of the mandates they are supposed to get their students to achieve. It reminds me of Bush's NCLB goal of "100% proficiency" of all students by 2014.

      #1, whose proficiency measures are used (the Federal government, DESE, local district, local school), are they reasonable and attainable? What measures should be used for ALL children who have varying IQs and insterests?...and

      #2, does anyone seriously believe 100% of children can be proficient for all the same goals?

      Testing results should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps a teacher's job shouldn't be dependent on the type of class that teacher has that particular year. Saying that, however, test results that show wildly diverging spikes should be investigated, would you agree?

  2. I agree with stlgretchen. The bigger message here is more that test results should not be used as a main factor in teacher evaluations. It may turn out that these changes in results can all be reasonably explained. As Bill mentioned, the ones from SSD may be the first to be easily dismissed as "normal" in their anormality. The very existence of these standardized assessments causes all kinds of problems in the classroom (stress, teaching to test temptations, loss of learning time, cheating etc.) Now it appears we have to use public money to audit the schools to find out if there was irregularities in the giving of these tests which most teachers, students and parents would like to do away with? And people wonder why education has become so expensive.


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