USA Today Shows That Many of the Big Test Score Jumps in DCPS Probably Are Due to Fraud

You MUST read this article in today’s USA Today.

The authors have dug deeply into the suspicious rises in test scores at many DC public schools under Michelle Rhee, and they conclude that a lot of those jumps were almost undoubtedly because somebody changed lots of students’ answers from wrong ones to right ones.

The only question in my mind is who actually did the erasures? Was it the principals themselves, afraid of losing their jobs? Their henchmen assistant principals, or the counsellors, under direct unwritten orders from those principals (and afraid of losing their jobs)? Or was it classroom teachers (also afraid of losing their jobs)?

The authors claim that mathematical probability of so many wrong-to-right erasures happening by chance is about the same as that of winning the Powerball lottery.

The article concentrates most of its focus on Noyes Elementary in Northeast DC, because of the sheer volume of suspicious erasures there. However, DCPS administrators refused to allow the reporters to speak officially to any administrators there, and even refused to allow them to talk to the firm which had been ineffectually investigating prior accusations of fraud.

A number of Noyes parents had for years been protesting to the Noyes administration and to DC School Board officials that their own children’s math and reading scores were suspiciously high. They didn’t feel that their children should be scoring in the “proficient” range if they were struggling with basic reading and writing. They were given the run-around by both the local school administration and by central DCPS administration, and eventually gave up. Some teachers quoted in the article confirmed that for many of their students, the test scores were obviously grossly inflated. The high scores, in any case, didn’t last once the students left the school.

Don’t get the impression that all of the problems happened at Noyes. Many schools had enormous jumps in scores, followed by large cash bonuses for administrators and teachers. Many of those same schools had huge numbers of suspicious erasures.

Also: don’t assume that current or past DCPS administration has any intention of actually digging down into this matter and finding out what really happened. They have been stonewalling this for years.

Meanwhile, at Sharpe Health special education school, and at St. Coletta’s Special Education charter school, well over 90% of the students scored proficient or advanced in both reading and math in the 2010 DC-CAS.

I guess pigs do fly after all.

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  1. That article is absolutely devastating. As cynical and as jaded as people may think I am, I honestly had no idea that the amount of fraud was so enormous, probably because I didn’t see it with my own eyes. I can say that I have had a handful of students whose DC-CAS math scores made absolutely no sense whatsoever, given what I discovered about how little they could do. Generally these students had taken those suspiciously high scores at another school, but I honestly cannot remember which schools. I of course didn’t know if the student had simply had an excellent week, had guessed correctly many times, or if somebody had changed a lot of their answers (or told them the right answers as they were doing the test). But there were only a handful of such students in my last 15 or so years.

    One reason I didn’t know there was so much fraud was because DCPS Central Administration (i.e., Michelle Rhee and her henchperson Kaya Henderson) suppressed and hamstrung pretty much all of the investigations.

    It is certainly telling that whenever a teacher was interviewed concerning suspicious erasures, his/her principal or an another administrator was in the room. It was probably that very same administrator who gave the orders to commit the fraud, or else who committed it in the first place!

    However, the evidence from Noyes is overwhelming.


  2. Although a fair bit of “erasure coverage” was published at the time in 2009, it did not raise a lot public furor. Under Rhee’s tight control it was hard to get answers and hard to get very many people to listen to the results. No one wanted to believe in widespread cheating or were willing to follow the DATA right in front of them to it logical conclusion. It shows a terrible weakness in the DCPS administration about how standardized tests are taken, scored, and analyzed for unusual erasures and an unwillingness to drill into that data for specific school and classroom abuses. Rather, the final score and it’s improvement from last year is about the only priority and such is made clear to the local schools.

    For additional background to the USA Today story, here are some of the articles and blog posting from the Post in 2009. Especially follow the more informed comments to get a sense of the community attitude.

    We are about to take the 2011 DC-CAS tests. What is the current level integrity in this high stakes testing era? These tests are mostly used to measure teachers and schools based on their squirrely students.

    September 7, 2009
    Request For Review Of D.C. Tests Languished
    Official Asked That Schools Look Into Possible Cheating
    September 8th, 2009
    Nickles Says Erasure Analysis Wasn’t Erased – dc Wire – The …
    So do we need an erasure analysis to find the erasure analysis? … He says the actual erasure analysis was more like an erasure conversation. …

    Published after September 3, 2009
    white paper on testing integrity final draft v2
    The goal of an erasure analysis is to identify schools and … students are not discouraged from making erasures as part of their normal test-taking …

    Click to access erasures090309.pdf

    September 16, 2009
    The Answer Sheet – After Cheating Concerns, Should Students Retake …
    Sep 16, 2009 … Post reporter Bill Turque reported recently that more than 40 schools were “flagged” for having erasures several times above the city …
    September 23, 2009
    Erasures on D.C. Tests Apparently Concentrated in Six – The …

    September 23, 2009
    State Superintendent Supports Rhee Account
    At the Struggle, we are proud of providing our readers the freshest news possible. To enrich our discussion of the cheating investigation, here is what I received a couple of minutes ago from D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri…
    By Jay Mathews | September 23, 2009; 5:38 PM ET | Permalink
    October 1, 2009
    D.C. Wire – School Ombudsman’s Office Closes
    By Bill Turque | October 1, 2009; 12:12 PM ET … Also, I think that this year, the system is doing its own erasure analysis of the DC-CAS tests. …
    November 24, 2009
    Twelve Schools Cited For Suspect Test Results – dc Wire – The …
    Twelve Schools Cited For Suspect Test Results. By Bill Turque. District officials have asked 12 public and public charter schools with irregularities in …
    September 23, 2009
    Class Struggle – Chancellor Rhee Corrects the Record
    Sep 23, 2009 … D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, after reading my latest post [Seen Cheating? … to the suspicious erasures on the 2008 standardized test for D.C. … My colleague Bill Turque’s Wednesday story in the Post said …


  3. It looks like the flying pigs are about to come crashing down to earth.


  4. […] “USA Today shows that many of the big test score jumps in DCPS probably are due to fraud” (GF Brandenburg) […]


  5. Guy, is there any chance you could run the numbers on the schools that DIDN’T cheat?

    It would be interesting to see the true “rise” in test scores (the Rhee miracle) if you took the cheaters out of the data.

    Even if you allowed in the schools that had one irregular classroom–more indicative of a single teacher cheating than an wholesale administrative effort to game the system, it would be great to see what really happened to test scores.

    I had my children at a Title I school that really struggled to bring up scores, but the rises (and declines) were incremental and I saw how hard our teachers and principal worked to bring about the tiniest of gains. I’m proud to see that our school doesn’t show up on any of the erasure reports. (Granted though, we were “punished” for low scores…)

    It would be great to see what overall test scores did when they didn’t involve erasing in 2008, 2009 & 2010.


  6. Any teacher who violates the law because they are “afraid” of “losing their jobs” and thus risks his or her license isn’t fit to teach. In the end, something WILL be done to their licenses.

    I don’t care WHAT administrators want: If they demand you cheat or violate federal law, don’t do it. Ever. Even if it means the administrator tries to ruin you.


  7. I suggested the same thing as Liz on the Jay Matthews blog: Eliminate all the tests that are questionable, then run the scores to see if test scores really rose, or dropped, during 2008-2010.

    Next question: will those giving and receiving the $1.5 million bonuses be charged with fraud? Did they know or should they have know about the cheating?


  8. I was asked if Noyes has become a school where large numbers of well-to-do students are now enrolled, innocently explaining the suspicious and significant rises in test scores there.
    Just a brief look at the NCLB data doesn’t seem to indicate that explanation holds water. The percentage of African-American students at Noyes has remained pretty steady, between 94% and 98%, and the fraction of students on free or reduced-price lunch has actually gone up a bit, from 72% in 2003 to 88% last year, with fluctuations in-between.


    So, either the students and teachers did one heckuva job, or there was a lot of cheating at the school. A number of Noyes parents themselves feel that their own children’s high math scores didn’t make sense. I agree with the parents.


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