DC-CAS Cheating Probe? Or Just Another Cover-up by DCPS Officials?

You all remember the USA TODAY series that shows almost definitively massive cheating by adults on the DC CAS over the past several years, at least.

The detection method was counting wrong-to-right erasures, as you probably recall. However, testing companies like Caveon and CTB McGraw-Hill have a number of other methods for detecting cheating.

For a simple description of another method of cheat detection, then read the first chapter of Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics. What Levitt did was to look for patterns of identical WRONG answers. This method will pick up cases where one kid is copying the answers of a neighbor, and will also catch instances where an adult, using a partially-incorrect answer key, fills in answers that were never bubbled in at all by the original student for whatever reason. (That sort of cheating could NOT be detected with WTR erasure analysis since nothing got erased!)

There are other methods of detecting cheating based on the actual answers, but I haven’t yet found out very much about them.

I contacted Dr. Steven Ferrara, the person at CTB McGraw-Hill who was named in the USATODAY series. He told me that the client (ie DCPS/OSSE in this case) chooses which cheat detection package method they will pay for and have the testing company put into practice. However, the company’s policy is to not publicly reveal which method(s) each client chooses to pay for and use.

As far as I can tell, based on the USAT series documentation and subsequent calls and emails to DCPS, OSSE, DC OIG, CTB McGraw-Hill, and the US DOE IG office, most of which were ignored, DCPS and OSSE decided only to use two:

(1) the WTR erasure analysis- which proves to me and to anybody who has ever learned anything about probability or statistics– that there was a LOT of cheating going on in DC, just like in Atlanta.

(2) Hire Caveon to do essentially a whitewash by going to a handful of schools and ask people, with a straight face, did anything bad happen?

And now we have another two toothless, worthless investigations by the DC Inspector General — which held something like ten interviews; and the US Department of Education’s inspector General office which is doing the same, or even less.
So far there has been no release whatsoever of the results of any cheating detection in the 2011 DC CAS testing.

Remember Wayne Ryan? He was the principal at Noyes ES in DC who apparently erased his way to fame and fortune by arranging for mass erasing at his school. He won cash awards, lots of favorable publicity, and a promotion to high office in DCPS. Not long after the USA today series came out, he suddenly and quietly resigned with no word of explanation. Some folks have told me that he was told to leave so that he couldn’t be compelled to testify as a DCPS employee — essentially admitting that Henderson and other higher ups in DCPS knew he was a big-time cheater. But of course I don’t know what was really said behind closed doors. Care to comment, Wayne or Kaya?

But this all fits a pattern on the part of DCPS: lying, cheating, denying the truth, covering up the evidence, and punishing those who blow the whistle.

For example: at Woodrow Wilson SHS, Erich Martel used common sense and a dedication to the truth to detect a years-long massive pattern of illegal grade changes and awarding of phony credits to students who hadn’t earned them. He carefully documented and publicized these illegalities in a number of venues. For his reward he was subjected to a lot of petty retaliation at his school and then given a punitive transfer to Phelps, from which he was subsequently RIFed (IIRC).

What happened to those principals and administrators who did all those illegal changes? Nothing that I am aware of.

At McKinley Tech, where hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money went missing, the principal was shown to have doctored a staggering number of student transcripts. An investigator is assigned to look into it. Guess what DCPS does? It FIRED THE INVESTIGATOR ON TRUMPED UP CHARGES and reinstated the principal.

Many teachers can tell you of students who utterly flunked a class (not showing up for classes most of the time, doing no assignments to speak of, passing no tests or quizzes, etc); and the teacher later finds out that an administrator at some point changed the grade to a good one. Which gives the student precisely the wrong life lesson!!

In addition, during the last few years, on the DC-CAS, students are given absurdly long periods of time to do most of the tests, and absolutely nothing to do once they are done. It doesn’t require 55 minutes to do 15 easy multiple-choice questions, but that’s pretty typical. It’s almost like they are asking students to “use their time wisely” by looking on each others’ papers, if possible. When I was teaching, all but a tiny handful of students would finish in about one-third of the time allotted, and then would be bored stiff. I would encourage them to check their work, of course. They would tell me, invariably, “but I already did!” I would then urge them to take a little mental break and then check their answers again. And again. But after a while they would start asking me for scratch paper so they could doodle and draw…. And of course, I had to collect and destroy all their drawings at the end of the session, as a security measure, even though some of their work was pretty darned nice!

I happen to think that the students I had for this sort of thing over the last 15 years were generally quite honest, but when students have so much time with nothing to do, and if there are a lot of students squeezed together with not much room between them, and if the students actually cared enough to do so, a student would have ample opportunity to cheat if he or she felt like it.

What’s more, a Canadian professor told me he found that lots of students do exactly that in city after city. But he can of course only detect this if he has the actual answers that students bubbled in.

If we could get access to the data, we could figure out whether there was in fact other sorts of cheating going on, of the type not detectable by WTR erasure analysis.

Don’t say it’s impossible: Chicago Public Schools did just that — they put all of the students answers for a several-year period into a searchable database which is how Levitt detected the cheating there. Under Arne Duncan, no less!

So that’s what I am calling for now:

Release all of the answers to all of the DC-CAS tests in such a way that the student is not identified by name, but the classroom and school *are* identifiable.

Let anybody interested fiddle with the data and perform their own investigation.

Sunlight is one of the very best disinfectants there is.

Postscript: I just looked at the Caveon website, and it looks like they specialize in helping school districts DISPROVE any and all accusations of cheating, regardless of the facts. If you don’t believe me, then look for yourself, in particular at these words that I italicized and put in brown-colored boldface, like this.

Caveon Investigations

Are  you facing accusations of cheating on your state tests?

What will you do when:

  • A caller says she observed teachers changing answers for students?
  • You’re alerted to strange erasure results or other unusual data analysis results?
  • Unbelievable score gains are achieved?

Caveon Investigations can help!


  • A third party, independent firm to investigate sensitive situations.
  • Experienced, trained professionals with expertise in state assessments, test fraud detection, and in conducting investigations.
  • Strong track record with premier clientele


  • Insulation from challenging investigation/interview processes
  • Reduce overhead on staff and financial resources
  • Confirm the fairness and validity of investigation results
  • Confidence and transparency in the process and the results for all your stakeholders
  • Experience, expertise, and discretion 
Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Once again, thanks for posting this

    All who are interested in REAL school reform should read it. Obama NEEDS to FIRE Arne Duncan.


  2. All who are interested in REAL school reform should read it. Obama NEEDS to FIRE Arne Duncan.


    • I certainly wish he would. Unfortunately, I doubt he will.


  3. Grade inflation is a big problem in my school district and around the country. My principal directed me to do something about the failing grades I was giving seniors in my English classes this past spring. Many of them had done little or no work and expected to graduate anyway.

    Even though she was retiring at the end of the school year, the principal wanted to make sure that the school’s graduation rate was kept up and her image was held intact. She complained of the possibility that she’d be called in by her superiors and asked to explain why so many of her seniors were failing. So two dozen students got a diploma and were pushed out the front door with little if any preparedness for college.

    Is that what a high school education is supposed to accomplish?


    • It would seem that the case of Erich Martel suggests the old saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Perhaps worse is that his attempt to tell the truth and to find the facts made him undesirable as a teacher. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on things that matter.” Unfortunately for Mr. Martel his job began to end the day he spoke out on things that matter. I can think of few more cogent examples of a dysfunctional system.


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