Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Educators Accused Of Tampering With Students' Tests From D.C. To Pennsylvania

This from the Huffington Post:

..."The rooster is guarding the hen house," said Gregory Cizek, a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor involved in analysis of Atlanta's schools. "When you're asking the state Department of Education to follow up on the state education system's potential problems, you're asking the wrong people to follow up on that. It should be some external or independent arm that does the follow up or the analyses."

The Atlanta school board met Monday to begin deciding the fate of the 138 implicated teachers.

On Friday, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a blog on Philadelphia's education system, reported that the state had provided it with a 2009 forensics investigation that flagged 60 statewide schools with suspicious results on standardized state exams.

The Notebook reported that "the odds that the wrong-to-right erasure patterns that showed up on Roosevelt's 7th grade reading response sheets occurred purely by chance were slightly less than 1 in 100 trillion."

Notebook reporter Ben Herold said that the state only produced the report once the blog had asked for it upon learning that states regularly perform forensic analyses of exams -- and may or may not release them.

"People in Philadelphia are reacting to this news in the context of what's happening elsewhere in the country," Herold added. "The district said they were never provided with this report and they would have used it in the course of internal investigations."

Herold's team analyzed the report and found that 22 of the implicated public schools and seven of the implicated charter schools were in Philadelphia. The report raises even larger questions in light of Philadelphia's nine years of test score gains.

The Notebook also asked Porter -- who produced the analysis of Atlanta schools -- to look at the report.

"I looked at their procedures and they seemed reasonable, smart, so that was good," he told HuffPost. "The frequency of worrisome patterns of results in Atlanta was greater than in Pennsylvania, but it does look like there were a number of schools in Philadelphia that were flagged one or more times. I'm sure Philadelphia is going to take those results very seriously."

Porter noted that the data itself -- without corroboration by witnesses -- doesn't prove cheating occurred.

When HuffPost asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the Pennsylvania story on Monday morning, he said he hadn't yet seen it. "I'll look at it this week," he said.

"Folks are really paying attention to this," he continued. "There's a greater awareness of the issues and trying to do things the right way. We put out guidance to states on this. You've got to take the state tests very seriously. You can't cheat children. You can't hurt children. That's exactly what you're doing."

Calls to the Pennsylvania Department of Education were not returned Monday.

"The state is having the same reaction Georgia educators had to that first report," Cizek said. "The state may not have a strong incentive to follow up real vigorously."

Also on Friday, Washington, D.C., released its latest crop of test scores, showing a general positive trend. A district official revealed the day before that the U.S. Department of Education had joined in the investigation of unlikely scoring patterns and alleged cheating incidents between 2008 and 2010. The probe began in March after USA Today investigated patterns of erasing students' incorrect answers.

The revelations come weeks after Andrés Alonso, CEO of Baltimore's schools, announced that evidence of cheating had been found at two elementary schools over the last two years, and after Arne Duncan sent a letter to all state education commissioners across the country stressing the importance of test integrity.

"Cheating under any circumstance is unacceptable," American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told a conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday. "It does raise the bigger issue that when tests themselves, and the high-stakes nature of them, become the be-all and the end all, as opposed to teaching and learning."

Last summer, New York state had to recalibrate its testing measures after finding that students had been mistakenly told they were proficient in certain subjects. "There's going to be a lot more reticence of state level officials to spend the money to do these kinds of investigations and run the risk that they'll be embarrassed at the process," Henig said...

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