Part Two: Cheating in DCPS

DC Education Reform Ten Years After, 

Part 2: Test Cheats

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. 

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons: 

·      in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

·      test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time; 

·      after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

·      after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven. 

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.  

Cheating scandals

From 2007 to 2009 rumors percolated of an extraordinary level of wrong-to-right erasures on the test answer sheets at many DCPS schools. “Erasure analysis” is one among several “red flag” indicators that testing contractors calculate to monitor cheating. The testing companies take no responsibility for investigating suspected test cheating, however; that is the customer’s, the local or state education agency. 

In her autobiographical account of her time as DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee), wrote (p. 197)

“For the first time in the history of DCPS, we brought in an outside expert to examine and audit our system. Caveon Test Security – the leading expert in the field at the time – assessed our tests, results, and security measures. Their investigators interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators.

“Caveon found no evidence of systematic cheating. None.”

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.[1]

Incidentally, prior to the revelation of its infamous decades-long, systematic test cheating, the Atlanta Public Schools had similarly retained Caveon Test Security and was, likewise, granted a clean bill of health. Only later did the Georgia state attorney general swoop in and reveal the truth. 

In its defense, Caveon would note that several cheating prevention measures it had recommended to DCPS were never adopted.[2] None of the cheating prevention measures that I recommended were adopted, either.

The single most effective means for reducing in-classroom cheating would have been to rotate teachers on test days so that no teacher administered a test to his or her own students. It would not have been that difficult to randomly assign teachers to different classrooms on test days.

The single most effective means for reducing school administratorcheating would have been to rotate test administrators on test days so that none managed the test materials for their own schools. The visiting test administrators would have been responsible for keeping test materials away from the school until test day, distributing sealed test booklets to the rotated teachers on test day, and for collecting re-sealed test booklets at the end of testing and immediately removing them from the school. 

Instead of implementing these, or a number of other feasible and effective test security measures, DCPS leaders increased the number of test proctors, assigning each of a few dozen or so central office staff a school to monitor. Those proctors could not reasonably manage the volume of oversight required. A single DC test administration could encompass a hundred schools and a thousand classrooms.

Investigations

So, what effort, if any, did DCPS make to counter test cheating? They hired me, but then rejected all my suggestions for increasing security. Also, they established a telephone tip line. Anyone who suspected cheating could report it, even anonymously, and, allegedly, their tip would be investigated. 

Some forms of cheating are best investigated through interviews. Probably the most frequent forms of cheating at DCPS—teachers helping students during test administrations and school administrators looking at test forms prior to administration—leave no statistical residue. Eyewitness testimony is the only type of legal evidence available in such cases, but it is not just inconsistent, it may be socially destructive. 

I remember two investigations best: one occurred in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood with well-educated parents active in school affairs; the other in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Superficially, the cases were similar—an individual teacher was accused of helping his or her own students with answers during test administrations. Making a case against either elementary school teacher required sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, that is, students—eight-to-ten-year olds. 

My investigations, then, consisted of calling children into the principal’s office one-by-one to be questioned about their teacher’s behavior. We couldn’t hide the reason we were asking the questions. And, even though each student agreed not to tell others what had occurred in their visit to the principal’s office, we knew we had only one shot at an uncorrupted jury pool. 

Though the accusations against the two teachers were similar and the cases against them equally strong, the outcomes could not have been more different. In the high-poverty neighborhood, the students seemed suspicious and said little; none would implicate the teacher, whom they all seemed to like. 

In the more prosperous neighborhood, students were more outgoing, freely divulging what they had witnessed. The students had discussed the alleged coaching with their parents who, in turn, urged them to tell investigators what they knew. During his turn in the principal’s office, the accused teacher denied any wrongdoing. I wrote up each interview, then requested that each student read and sign. 

Thankfully, that accused teacher made a deal and left the school system a few weeks later. Had he not, we would have required the presence in court of the eight-to-ten-year olds to testify under oath against their former teacher, who taught multi-grade classes. Had that prosecution not succeeded, the eyewitness students could have been routinely assigned to his classroom the following school year.

My conclusion? Only in certain schools is the successful prosecution of a cheating teacher through eyewitness testimony even possible. But, even where possible, it consumes inordinate amounts of time and, otherwise, comes at a high price, turning young innocents against authority figures they naturally trusted. 

Cheating blueprints

Arguably the most widespread and persistent testing malfeasance in DCPS received little attention from the press. Moreover, it was directly propagated by District leaders, who published test blueprints on the web. Put simply, test “blueprints” are lists of the curricular standards (e.g., “student shall correctly add two-digit numbers”) and the number of test items included in an upcoming test related to each standard. DC had been advance publishing its blueprints for years.

I argued that the way DC did it was unethical. The head of the Division of Data & Accountability, Erin McGoldrick, however, defended the practice, claimed it was common, and cited its existence in the state of California as precedent. The next time she and I met for a conference call with one of DCPS’s test providers, Discover Education, I asked their sales agent how many of their hundreds of other customers advance-published blueprints. His answer: none.

In the state of California, the location of McGoldrick’s only prior professional experience, blueprints were, indeed, published in advance of test administrations. But their tests were longer than DC’s and all standards were tested. Publication of California’s blueprints served more to remind the populace what the standards were in advance of each test administration. Occasionally, a standard considered to be of unusual importance might be assigned a greater number of test items than the average, and the California blueprints signaled that emphasis. 

In Washington, DC, the tests used in judging teacher performance were shorter, covering only some of each year’s standards. So, DC’s blueprints showed everyone well in advance of the test dates exactly which standards would be tested and which would not. For each teacher, this posed an ethical dilemma: should they “narrow the curriculum” by teaching only that content they knew would be tested? Or, should they do the right thing and teach all the standards, as they were legally and ethically bound to, even though it meant spending less time on the to-be-tested content? It’s quite a conundrum when one risks punishment for behaving ethically.

Monthly meetings convened to discuss issues with the districtwide testing program, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—administered to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. All public schools, both DCPS and charters, administered those tests. At one of these regular meetings, two representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced plans to repair the broken blueprint process.[3]

The State Office employees argued thoughtfully and reasonably that it was professionally unethical to advance publish DC test blueprints. Moreover, they had surveyed other US jurisdictions in an effort to find others that followed DC’s practice and found none. I was the highest-ranking DCPS employee at the meeting and I expressed my support, congratulating them for doing the right thing. I assumed that their decision was final.

I mentioned the decision to McGoldrick, who expressed surprise and speculation that it might have not been made at the highest level in the organizational hierarchy. Wasting no time, she met with other DCPS senior managers and the proposed change was forthwith shelved. In that, and other ways, the DCPS tail wagged the OSSE dog. 

* * *

It may be too easy to finger ethical deficits for the recalcitrant attitude toward test security of the Rhee-Henderson era ed reformers. The columnist Peter Greene insists that knowledge deficits among self-appointed education reformers also matter: 

“… the reformistan bubble … has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people’s money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, ‘Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I’d have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit.’”

“There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money and set up a parallel education system even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked–actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they’re talking about.”

In my twenties, I worked for several years in the research department of a state education agency. My primary political lesson from that experience, consistently reinforced subsequently, is that most education bureaucrats tell the public that the system they manage works just fine, no matter what the reality. They can get away with this because they control most of the evidence and can suppress it or spin it to their advantage.

In this proclivity, the DCPS central office leaders of the Rhee-Henderson era proved themselves to be no different than the traditional public-school educators they so casually demonized. 

US school systems are structured to be opaque and, it seems, both educators and testing contractors like it that way. For their part, and contrary to their rhetoric, Rhee, Henderson, and McGoldrick passed on many opportunities to make their system more transparent and accountable.

Education policy will not improve until control of the evidence is ceded to genuinely independent third parties, hired neither by the public education establishment nor by the education reform club.

The author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of Erich Martel and Mary Levy.

Access this testimonial in .pdf format

Citation:  Phelps, R. P. (2020, September). Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, Part 2: Test Cheats. Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials. https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Testimonials/v16n3.htm


[1] A perusal of Caveon’s website clarifies that their mission is to help their clients–state and local education departments–not get caught. Sometimes this means not cheating in the first place; other times it might mean something else. One might argue that, ironically, Caveon could be helping its clients to cheat in more sophisticated ways and cover their tracks better.

[2] Among them: test booklets should be sealed until the students open them and resealed by the students immediately after; and students should be assigned seats on test day and a seating chart submitted to test coordinators (necessary for verifying cluster patterns in student responses that would suggest answer copying).

[3] Yes, for those new to the area, the District of Columbia has an Office of the “State” Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Its domain of relationships includes not just the regular public schools (i.e., DCPS), but also other public schools (i.e., charters) and private schools. Practically, it primarily serves as a conduit for funneling money from a menagerie of federal education-related grant and aid programs

A closer look at charter and regular public school enrollments, percentages of students at risk, and percentages of students ‘proficient’

Here is another look at the brand-new data concerning four variables in the District of Columbia schools, about which I wrote a couple of days ago. The difference here is that the dots representing the schools are more-or=less proportional to the size of the student body.

1. Is this a regular public school, or a charter school (blue or red):

2. What fraction of the kids at that school are officially considered to be At Risk? (That’s the scale along the x-axis at the bottom of the page)

3. What is the average percentage of the kids at that school are ‘proficient’ in reading and math on the DC-CAS? (That’s the scale along the y-axis at the left-hand side of the page)

4. How big is the school? (That’s the size of the dot, more or less; the legend is at the bottom left-hand corner of the graph)

Time spent looking carefully at this graph will be well-spent. If you click on it, it will expand.

It will certainly show that charter schools have not revolutionized education for the better in DC: for both types of schools, there remains a very strong, negative correlation between the percentages of kids At Risk and ‘pass’ rates on the DC-CAS.

Note that most schools have between 200 and 500 students and that most of the ones that are smaller are actually charter schools. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the schools with the largest fraction of At-Risk students (say, over 2/3 of the student body) are almost all regular DC public schools.

On the second graph, which is otherwise identical to the first, I’ve labeled some of the larger schools.

fixed bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

Here is the one with names of some of the larger schools, so you can see how individual schools fall on this graph.

(Sorry, I there was not enough room to label every single one, and my non-existent HTML skills won’t allow me to make it so that any of the dots are clickable. If any of my readers know how to do that and would like to offer to make that happen, then please let me know in the comments.)

again fixed and revised names and bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

And here is the entire data table. So you can see where every single school lies on these three dimensions.

(PS: I added a few more names of schools and corrected four other small errors, two pointed out by an alert reader.. 2/22/2015)

Latest DC Audited Enrollment Figures for all, charters, and regular public schools

The latest audited enrollment numbers have just been released, but not in a very useful format.

They show that regular DCPS enrollment is pretty close to flat, with only a small change over last year, or even over the last seven years. However, overall enrollment in all taxpayer-funded schools in the District of Columbia continues to rise, mostly because of a steady 15-year-long rise in charter school enrollment and a large increase in the overall city population.

The strangest feature I see is that the high school enrollment (grades 9-12) is down at all types of schools, with apparently many of those students moving to ‘alternative’ schools, at least on paper.

As I said, I didn’t think the graphs put out by OSSE were very informative, so I’ve re-plotted them here. For example, they put the charter school and public school enrollments on different graphs with different scales, making them hard to compare.

My first graph is of overall enrollment figures for regular public schools and for the charter schools (which several courts have decided are NOT public entities)  since the start of the millennium:

audited enrollment, dc public and charter schools, 2001-14

 

The red line is enrollment in the charter schools, and the blue line is that of the regular public schools. You can see that the blue line has been just about level since 2007-8, when Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of DCP.

My next graphs explores where the students are. OSSE separates students into various “bands” which are a bit hard to decipher. PreK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten totals are counted separately, and then they lump together grades 1-3 (‘primary’), then grades 4-5 (‘upper elementary’), then grades 6-8 (‘middle’), and grades 9-12 (high school). Students in alternative schools, of unspecified ages, are counted separately, as are students enrolled in Special Education schools and those in adult learning centers.

This first one is for regular DC Public Schools. You can see that preK3 though grade 3 comprises just under half of the entire DCPS population.

overall dcps - only enrollment by bands, 2013-4

 

The next graph shows the same thing but for ALL taxpayer-funded schools, both public and charter. Notice that the ‘adult’ sector is larger here.

overall dc osse enrollment by grade bands, 2013-4And the next graph shows the same thing for just the charter schools:

overall dc charter enrollment in percentages by grade bands 2013-4We see a much larger fraction of students in the adult sector. Again, Prek3 through grade 3 makes up just under half of the total.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the changes from last year to this, by grade band. My first graph shows overall changes from last year to this year, in all taxpayer-funded schools in Washington DC. Notice the large increase in the ‘alternative’ population and the ‘adult’ population, followed by a somewhat smaller rise in grades 1-3. The high school population – both public AND charter – actually dropped, as did the number of students enrolled in a special education school like Sharpe. It appears that a large fraction of that drop is students being reclassified as “alternative” instead of being in a high school.

increases, decreases by grade level, all DC OSSE schools, 2012-3 ri 2013-4Now let’s look at the corresponding graph for the regular DC public schools:

actual increases or decreases by grade level, DCPS only 2012-3 to 2013-4

 

Notice that once again, there was a big jump in the ‘alternative’ population, followed by an increase of about 250 at grades 1-3. As in overall DC stats, there was a drop in grades 9-12 and in special education. (the number for grade 6-8 is a typo: it should be 50)

Lastly, here are the changes since last year by grade band for the DC charter schools:

actual changes in enrollment, dc charter schools by grade bands, 2012-3 to 2013-4

 

I was surprised to see small drops in all of secondary charter schools (that is, grades 6 through 12). We see robust increases at all other levels, especially at the adult and alternative levels. I’m not exactly sure what’s causing this; perhaps readers closer to the trench lines than me (retired 5 years now) can comment.

My understanding  from reading US census figures is that the number of teenagers in Washington, DC – and thus, the number of students eligible to enroll in grades 6-12 continues to fall, while the number of younger kids is increasing. Obviously, those little kids generally grow older, and soon we will see a robust increase in the high school enrollment in the public and charter schools — unless they and their families all move out of town or decide to spend huge amounts for private or parochial schools. Which I doubt will happen.

In any case, claims of huge increases in enrollment in the DC public schools under chancellors Henderson and Rhee are just wishful thinking — like most of the boasts on Michelle Rhee’s famous resume.

 

Comments are most definitely welcome, even if you need a magnifying glass to see the “comments” button.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Trends for DC & Charters & Nation in 8th grade NAEP reading scores, black students

Here we have yet another surprising graph showing how the scores for black 8th graders on the NAEP reading tests have been bouncing around for students in DC public schools, DC charter schools, DC as a whole, large US cities as a whole, and the nation’s public schools as a whole.

Tell me what you see:

dc, dcps, charters, national, black 8th grade reading, naep to 2013

What I see is that under the ‘leadership’ of Rhee and Henderson, African-american 8th graders enrolled in DC public schools (blue and purple line) are actually doing a bit worse than they did before mayoral control. However, the average scores for the their counterparts in DC’s charter schools (dotted orange line)  are rising quite rapidly and are now higher than the national averages for black 8th graders.

However, on the average, the scores for all 8th-grade black students in publicly-funded DC schools (black dashed line) on the NAEP since 2008 (when Rhee was installed – purple vertical line) seem to be following the trends that were in place before that date.

No wonder Henderson recently admitted that her administration had no real idea on how to make DCPS middle schools attractive to families. One might conclude that the DC African-American families and students who were motivated to do well in school have in many cases migrated to the charter schools, leaving the less-motivated ones behind.

As in my previous three posts, I had to do have my spreadsheet do some computation to calculate the scores for the charter schools. You can find the formula in my first two posts. I used the overall DCPS and charter school and DC total enrollments rather than the specific 8th-grade-level enrollments for each institution because the latter was too difficult to find and I suspected that it wouldn’t make a big difference. If anybody finds any errors, please let me know.

Trends on NAEP for 8th grade math, black students in DC, DCPS, DC charters, and nation

Yet another graph, this one showing how this year’s group of African-American 8th grade students did on the NAEP math tests in the regular DC public schools, in all DC publicly-funded schools, in the DC charter schools, in large cities across the nation, and in all US public school systems, going back to the early 1990s.

dc, dcps, charters, national - black 8th graders, math to 2013

As usual, I had to do a bit of algebra to calculate what the average charter school scores were in the post-Rhee era, since those are not explicitly given anywhere. I give the explanation in my previous two posts.

My previous results seem to disagree a bit with those produced by NCES (by a couple of points). Therefore I used their data instead of what I calculated; the graph above is new as of 1/6/2014.

I still make these conclusions:

(1) Since the establishment of mayoral control of the schools, as a whole, the overall average for DC students in publicly-supported schools is following just about the exact same trends that were established from 2000 through 2007.  As a result, math scores for DC’s African-American 8th graders are now equal to those in large cities across the nation, which is a positive development.

(2) The DC charter schools seemed to have siphoned off the more motivated black 8th grade students and their families; as a result, scores for students in the regular DC public schools at that level in math lag significantly behind those of their counterparts in the charter schools, whose scores now surpass those of black 8th graders n the nation’s public schools as a whole and also those in large urban school systems as well.

As usual, if anybody finds any errors in my work, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Enrollment in DCPS – Have Rhee & Henderson Saved It?

Michelle Rhee, her acolyte Kaya Henderson, and all their supporters keep saying that their corporate-style educational deforms in Washington DC have done wonderful things, such as increasing the enrollment in DC public schools.

As usual, they are not telling the truth.

To compare apples to apples, and not watermelons to peanuts, it pays to look at the same sort of data every year — in other words, let’s look at just K-12 enrollment for as far back as we have data.

Mary Levy has done just that, wading through mounds of official, audited data on fall enrollment in DCPS for 1990 through 2012; she shared it on the Concerned4DCPS yahoo group. (Thanks!)

I converted some of her data into graphs so you can see it more easily. I present first the total enrollment for grades K-12 during that time period. Tell me where you see a large uptick since 2007, because I for one can’t find it.

It seems to have stabilized, but that’s all; and this at a time when the entire population of the District of Columbia grew by about one-fifth (about 100,000 people) and the enrollment in our publicly-funded, but privately-run charter schools has gone through the roof. So, not exactly a stellar job; in fact, the sort of job that ought to get Henderson and company fired for sheer incompetence. In fact, this is not the only time that DCPS enrollment was roughly stable – that also happened from 1990 to 1996.

total audited dcps enrollment 1990-2012

My next chart shows the actual year-to-year changes in DCPS K-12 population. A red bar pointing down means that the schools had fewer students that year than they did the year before. A blue bar pointing up shows an increase in students over the previous year.

There was a tiny increase in the fall of 2012 (the current school year), just like there was a tiny increase in the fall of 1992. The largest drop occurred in 1998, when DCPS had a net loss of about 5000 students from the year before. It is madness to pretend that things have been hunky-dory since Rhee and her inexperienced, arrogant, highly-paid management types and consultants arrived in 2007.

In point of fact, what they did is trash the few decent things in DCPS with their own corporate style of autocratic foolishness and hubris. They have fixed exactly none of the problems that parents, teachers and students were complaining about, and they hide any real data like this.

k-12 enrollment of dcps from 1991

 

It is time to throw them out and go back to a democratically-elected school board and neighborhood schools — to begin with. Yes, lots of changes need to be made, but this crew has not a clue.

 

Part 3: Enrollment Trends In DC’s Public Schools and Charter Schools

I notice some interesting trends when I look at these three charts from the Washington, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, or DC OSSE.

Do you see what I see?

This first one is enrollment by grade grouping for all DC’s publicly-funded schools, that is, both the regular public schools and the charter schools, combined:

The next one is just for the regular DC public schools:

and the last OSSE graph is just for the charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run:

One thing I note is that in preK-3, and in Adult Education, and in Special Education schools, there are now more students enrolled in the charter schools than in the regular public schools.

(Not so in the other grade strands.)

The Carlos Rosario adult education school is a charter school,  and apparently well-funded, may be part of the reason for the surge in Adult Ed students in the charter realm. It’s located near the home of a family member, and seems to have a lot of students. I am not sure what’s going on with the special education schools (though as I’ve noted before, it’s awfully weird that nearly every single special education student at these schools, whether charter or public, tests either “proficient” or “advanced”, when a substantial portion of them are unable to feed, dress, or bathe themselves, much less read).

I do not know why the overall enrollment for grades 4 and 5 is down for all publicly-funded schools in DC as a whole, and I am not at all sure why the number of DCPS students in those two grades is down by five percent.

I had sort of expected that the small, one-percent rise in regular DCPS population would be mostly from growth in Pre-K. That turned out not to be the case. If you just count “traditional” enrollment in grades Kindergarten through 12, enrollment went from 37,927 to 38,397, which is an increase ofr 470 students, roughly 1.2%; and that’s about the same as the corresponding change in DCPS as a whole, i.e. 1.5%.

In the charter schools, too, the enrollment growth in grades K through 12 is about 11.1%, not really different from the overall charter school growth of 11.0%.

That’s what I see.

What do you see?

Another Look at DCPS enrollment versus the Charter Schools

This little graph I made allows you to contrast and compare what is happening in the overall enrollment in the regular DC public schools with that in the “public” charter schools. It’s a stacked bar graph, so you can see the two quantities at the same time on the same graph. Your eyes are pretty good at finding trends. What do you see?

Published in: on February 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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So, what’s with this supposed growth in population in DC Public Schools?

Remember the myth that under Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, DCPS enrollment finally started to rise again?

Yes, it is a myth, as I will show you, using OSSE’s own graphs and tables. All I did down below is cut and paste.

If you look at the press release from OSSE and DC Mayor Gray, it looks like DCPS enrollment rose by by 2%.  You actually have to look pretty hard and really understand what you are looking for, if you want to find the dirty little hidden secret that the enrollment in DC public schools is actually DOWN by 1%. It’s contained here in this sentence:

  • DCPS enrollment had a slight decrease of 1%, from 45,630 to 45,191 (439 students).

“States across the country look at early childhood enrollment numbers to determine future trends and to gauge the trust parents have in their school system,” added Hosanna Mahaley, State Superintendent of Education. “Our amazing growth in the early grades and Pre-Kindergarten is a testament to the work of our school leaders, as well as the Mayor’s relentless early childhood efforts.”

So Mahaley tries to pretend that there really is big growth in DCPS, which isn’t true. However, part of the Education Deformers founding myth is that their ideas, which involve destroying public education as we knew it, will have amazing results, and that all of the results are wonderful.

The truth is otherwise: there aren’t any wonderful results. And they are destroying our public school system and turning the education of our youth over to people who at best have no idea what they are doing, even if they do have fancy spreadsheets and PPT presentations. And at worst want to move us back to a very unequal educational system that reminds me strangely of the Colored and White school systems that were still around when I was a little boy.

I think that many publications conveniently blur the differences between charters and real public schools when it suits their purposes. Here it makes the educational Deformers look good to add the numbers for public and charter schools.

Notice a couple of things: if all of the publicly-funded schools in a county or city start having enrollment increases, then there could be several reasons:

(1) Some of the students who used to be in private or parochial schools transferred to public schools, perhaps to save money, or parent(s) lost job(s), or school(s) closed down, or parents just changed their minds, etc. (Certainly possible. Problem is, I don’t have any data from private schools in DC in general, and I haven’t asked around yet; I just don’t know if they are growing or shrinking in general. As far as parochial schools are concerned, some of you readers probably remember that over the past decades, a LOT of catholic schools in DC have either closed or, more recently, converted themselves into charter schools to get the public funding.)

(2) The overall population of the region is growing for whatever reason, and that includes a number of children who were born somewhere between 2008 and 1993; and most kids do go to public schools. (DC’s population is definitely increasing, so this is quite plausible. If the population of a city is growing, and that includes kids of school age, then it stands to reason that unless their parents are home-schooling them or just not allowing them to enroll anywhere at all, then the public schools’ population will go up. It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t really call for cheerleaders, either.)

(3) There are increased numbers of students moving across boundary lines (legally or not) in order to attend schools in the district in question. (I know that some Md and Va parents bring their kids to DC schools for various reasons, but I can’t tell you whether this trend is increasing or otherwise.)

(4) All the numbers are made up anyway, so there’s no way to know. (I hope we can trust these numbers!)

On the OSSE web page with the press release, I found some very nicely done graphs giving the long-term trends over the past decade.

First, let’s look at

OSSE’s own graph of DCPS enrollment over the past decade:

I hope you notice several things:

(1) DCPS now has the same number of students that it did in 2008/09.

(2) The numbers of students in DCPS has been essentially flat since 2008/09. You have to look pretty hard to find any real change at all since then, and if you do, you’re probably exaggerating.

(3) This graph does not go to zero; thus all changes look much bigger than they otherwise would.

(4) DC’s population was going down at a pretty steady clip for quite some time, until 2008/09. (When I started teaching in 1978, many, many schools were overcrowded.)

Now let’s look at the same graph from the same source, but pertaining to DC charter schools. 

I hope you notice several things:

(1) This graph DOES go to zero

(2) But its scale is totally different from that on the previous graph. (Given our natural human tendency to compare sizes rather than numbers, one could be forgiven for thinking that the number of charter school students now is equal to the number of DCPS kids)

(3) The # of charter students seems to be going up at a pretty steady rate, which we can estimate pretty easily. From around 2001 or 2002, there were abut 11,000 PCS students. This year, about 31,000 students, which means about 20,000 more students over about 10 years, or about 2,000 more kids per year.

(4) It’s not exponential growth.

Now, let’s look at a table that OSSE made that shows, by grade bands, what happened to the number of kids in DC public schools. As you can see, there are a few shifts of a few hundred students into and out of some grades. Big losers: grades 4-5 (down by 217 kids, or about 3%) and in grades 9-12, which is down by 311, or 3%.. There are some changes in Alternative and Special Education numbvers that I do not understand at all.

There are also some increases at grades PK4 and in grades 1-3.

Now let’s look at a similar table (again by OSSE) that gives figures for the charter schools.

Apparently the fact that the charter school numbers of  PK3 and PK4 students seem to jump around so much isn’t so important. But it does look to me that the charter schools are having a lot more growth in the earliest grades than the regular public schools are.

Another interesting trend: there are more adult students in the charter system (in particular, at Carlos Rosario) than in the regular public schools.

Another fact: the number of high school students in the charter schools went down by a larger percentage than it did in the public schools. Yes, there are roughly twice as many students in grades 9-12 in DCPS as in the charter schools, so that 3% drop in the public schools ends up being about 80 more kids than the 4% drop in the charter schools.

(Got that?)

But, in any case, both types of schools seem to be losing population in grades 9 – 12.

As usual, you can leave comments.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Strange Events at Dunbar SHS

Dunbar SHS has been in the news a lot recently. Erich Martel, a history teacher punitively transferred from Wilson, has dug deeply into the record, and has written the following:

[Attachment(s) from Erich Martel included below] 

Dunbar’s Decline Began Long Before Rhee and Continued Under Her

by Erich Martel
Dunbar HS has been in the news.  Supt Janey’s and Chancellor’s Rhee’s actions regarding Dunbar do not tell a simple hero – villain story.  Mostly, they reveal how tests and data can be adjusted to give the appearance of improvement and that students continue to receive diplomas that do not represent mastery of DCPS subject standards. The data from Dunbar HS are typical of those in many of our high schools.
For several decades, students have been allowed to graduate from DCPS high schools like Dunbar without meeting mandatory requirements in core subject matter. Standardized tests occasionally reveal, if only approximately, how great the gulf between image and reality is.  This commentary grew out of an attempt to address the following questions, which Colbert King’s article on Dunbar HS brought to mind:
1) How could DCPS officials say that “70% of the class of 2007 were expected to attend college,” when two years earlier grade 10 SAT9 tests revealed that over 90% received Below Basic scores in math and over 65% received Below Basic scores in reading?
and
2) Miracle or Mirage: How was the following possible:
April 2005:  SAT9 Grade 10 Math:  no students scored advanced; 3 students scored proficient;
April 2006:  DC CAS Grade 10 Math: 5 students scored advanced; 58 students scored proficient.
Hiding or attempting to manipulate reality always has consequences:  a few benefit; most pay a price.
Erich Martel
Social Studies
Phelps ACE HS
DCPS
(In January 2008, I was the WTU representative on the Quality School Review Team that visited Dunbar HS, a step that was preliminary to the chancellor’s restructuring decision under NCLB)
Overview
1)  Posted data on the OSSE site are incomplete
2) What do truancy and graduation rate data show?
3)  Dunbar’s SAT9 and DCCAS results I:  Miracle or Mirage on NJ Ave.? (See attachment, sheet 1)
4)  Dunbar’s SAT9 and DCCAS results II:  Miracle or Mirage on NJ Ave.? (See attachment, sheet 1)
5) Graduation: How is it that “70% of [the Dunbar class of 2007] were expected to attend college”?
6)  Correlation of Graduation Numbers and Grade 10 SAT9 Results
7)  In-house Alteration of Students’ Records
8) Enrollment Decline at Dunbar HS (attachment, sheet 2)
9) Student Records Audit at Dunbar HS, 2002-03
COMMENTARY
1)  Posted data on the OSSE site are incomplete, probably due to the failure of DCPS – and charters – to provide them.
For example:
a) Truancy data are available for only four years:  2003-04 to 2006-07 (Attachment, sheet 1, columns J & K);
b) Average daily attendance data are available for only 2009-10 (Sheet 1, column L);
c) Graduation rate data are available for only 2008-09 and 2009-10 (Sheet 1, Column M) (Columns E & I show the senior completion rates: number of June graduates divided by the number of seniors on the October OSSE enrollment count, 8 months earlier)
2) What do truancy and graduation rate data show?
a) Truancy at Dunbar went from 18.39% in 2003-04 (the year before Janey arrived) to 16.68% (his first year); the almost doubled to 29.99% in 2005-06 before climbing to 42.86% in his last year.
c) The graduation rate dropped from 81.7% in 2008-09 to 74.7% in 2009-10.
Was that Bedford’s fault? Those rates do not report that the majority of the students needed Credit Recovery and/or summer school to pass one or more courses needed for graduation.
The real test of graduation validity:  How many graduates who enrolled in colleges or professional schools:
i.  Needed to take non-credit remedial courses before moving on to credit-bearing courses?
ii. Lasted for at least one semester?    …. for two semesters?
3)  Dunbar’s SAT9 and DCCAS results I:  Miracle or Mirage? (See attachment, sheet 1)
a) Between April 1999 to April 2005 only 22 Dunbar 10th graders (out of 1,564 tested; not including the Pre-Engineering Academy) received scores of Advanced or Proficient on the SAT9 Math.
In April 2005, the last year of the SAT9, only 3 10th grade students scored Proficient (no one scored Advanced).
Yet, one year lated, April 2006, the first year of the DC CAS, 5 scored Advanced & 58 scored Proficient, a number  almost 3 times greater than the total (22) of the previous seven years.
b)  That dramatic increase occurred at the same two years that truancy jumped from 16.68% to 29.99%.
c)  The number of Adv & Prof scores then dropped during Janey’s last year (06-07), down in 07-08 (Rhee’s first year), up in 08-09, and down again in 09-10.
4)  Dunbar’s SAT9 and DCCAS results II:  Miracle or Mirage? (See attachment, sheet 1)
a)  In April 2005, 206 Dunbar 10th graders (out of 227 tested; not including the Pre-Engineering Academy) received scores of Below Basic on the SAT9 Math; one year later, April 2006, it dropped to 82, rose in 2007 to 98, fell to 72, then 61 and finally 38 in 2010 (under Bedford).
5) Graduation: How is it possible that “70% of [the Dunbar class of 2007] were expected to attend college”? (Colbert King, Washinton Post, 12/18/10).
Consider:  According to the OSSE enrollment audit, the Dunbar HS class of 2007 (seniors, including 25 Pre-Engineering seniors) numbered 223 students.
Two years earlier, in April 2005, the tenth graders of the future Class of 2007 produced the following results on the SAT9:
Math (Total:  227 students):  attachment:  sheet 1
Advanced:  0 students
Proficient:  3 students (or 1.32%)
Basic:   18 students (7.93%)
Below Basic:  206 students (90.75%)
Reading (Total:  234 students); attachment:  sheet 3
Advanced:  0 students
Proficient:  4 students (or 1.71%)
Basic:   75 students (32.05%)
Below Basic:  155 students (66.24%)
Recall what the four performance levels are supposed to mean (source:  “Stanford 9 Special Report:  Performance Standard Scores,” Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement, 1997):
Advanced: “signifiies superior academic performance”
Proficient: “denotes solid academic performance”
Basic: “denotes partial mastery” (emphasis added)
Below Basic:  “signifies less than partial mastery”
In June 2007, Dunbar HS had 171 graduates for a senior completion rate of 76.7% (171 graduates / 223 seniors).
Assuming that these were the top students who took the SAT9 two years earlier, the class of 2007 included only 3 students who were showed “solid academic achievement” in math and only 4 in reading.  Of the 171, only 18 had shown “partial mastery” in math, while 75 had shown “partial mastery” in reading.
Of that 171, 70% (120 students) were “expected to attend college.”  Thus, leaving aside the 51 students (30%) not expected to attend college, the 120 who [were] expected to attend college showed the following performance two years earlier as tenth graders:
In Reading:
– 0 showed “superior academic performance”
– 4 showed “solid academic achievement”;
– 75 showed “partial mastery”;
– 41 showed “less than partial mastery”
In Math:
– 0 showed “superior academic performance” 

– 3 showed “solid academic achievement”;
– 18 showed “partial mastery”;
– 99 showed “less than partial mastery”
6.  Correlation of Graduation Numbers and Grade 10 SAT9 Results
By the end of the 3rd Advisory or marking period, when students take the SAT9 (since 2006, the DC CAS), they have completed or should have completed Algebra I and Geometry.  How likely is it that 99 out120 students who showed less than partial mastery in grade 10 math were likely to overcome that deficit and master Algebra II/ Trigonometry or mastery of the elements of four years of English and writing skills?
Undoubtedly, some students managed to improve over the remaining two years.  By the same token, however, the depressing anti-academic attitudes that hamper teaching and learning could very easily have led some students who did well in grade 10 to lose interest.  In fact, most of the students required easier summer school classes to meet graduation requirements.
7.  In-house Alteration of Students’ Records
As the review of student academic records at Dunbar in 2002-03 concluded ( http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/030922b.htm and below) “the opportunity for tampering was greatly enhanced and the reliability of the students’ records was questionable.” Despite recommendations of a Student Records Management Task Force (August 2003), no systemic steps were taken to ensure that student records were secure against internal tampering. That was revealed in Wilson HS’s Class of 2006, when approximately 200 of the 420 seniors listed on the June graduation day program had not completed their mandatory requirements.  It is not known whether the DC Inspector General’s report of the audit of Wilson HS graduation records led Supt. Janey to tighten procedures in other high schools (http://tinyurl.com/2nukmj ).
8.   Enrollment Decline at Dunbar HS (attachment, sheet 2)
In order to understand the decline in enrollment in Dunbar HS, one must factor out the grade 9 increases, beginning in 2006-07, when 9th grades in high schools began to increase as junior high schools were transformed into middle schools.
Dunbar’s total enrollment dropped from 1070 in 2002-03 to 913 in 2006-07 (adjusted to 887) in Supt Janey’s last year.  The October 2009 adjusted enrollment (factoring out the grade 9 increase) is 664, down by more than 200 since Chancellor Rhee took over.
9. Student Records Audit at Dunbar HS, 2002-03
Following the revelations of altered student records at Wilson HS in June 2002, DCPS contracted with Gardiner Kamya Inc. to conduct reviews of 59 students’ transcripts and supporting documentation in each DCPS high school.  The following is Dunbar HS’s report.  It is posted on the dcpswatch website, because DCPS officials did not post it.
GARDINER KAMYA & ASSOCIATES, PC
CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS / MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

INDEPENDENT ACCOUNTANTS’ REPORT ON APPLYING AGREED-UPON PROCEDURES REGARDING STUDENT RECORDS AT SIXTEEN HIGH SCHOOLS/SITES http://www.dcpswatch.com/dcps/030922b.htm

MARCH 30, 2003 (End of Field Work)
July 17, 2003 (DC PS Response)
September 22, 2003 (Report Submitted)

Submitted by:
Gardiner, Kamya & Associates, P.C.
1717 K Street, NW Suite 601
Washington, DC 20036

7. DUNBAR SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL

  1. Internal controls (Procedure #1, Page 7)
    The school did implement the grade verification process mandated by the DCPS. However, due to the state of the student records and the results of the procedures detailed below, we conclude that internal controls with respect to student grades were ineffective and there was no assurance that such grades were accurately reflected in the student records.
  2. Confidentially maintained (Procedure #2, Page 9)
    The procedure was completed without exception. [Comment:  This means that all alterations were done by those with legal access to student records]
  3. Completeness of Cumulative and Electronic files (Procedure #3, Page 9)
    1. Cumulative Files
      Eighteen files in our sample of 59 were incomplete. Two files were missing. Some of the incomplete files were missing more than one item. The missing items were as follows: 

      1. It is the school’s policy to create a Letter of Understanding for all students in grades 9 -12. However, the school could not provide a Letter of Understanding for 14 students in our sample;
      2. Two student’s file did not contain a transcript;
      3. Three students’ files did not contain a 9th grade report card;
      4. Six students’ files did not contain a report card;
      5. One student’s file did not contain either a 9th or 11th grade report card;
      6. One student did not have a 10th grade report card in his/her file.
    2. Electronic Files
      The school could not provide electronic data (COHI and SIS-HIST) for six students in our sample. Consequently, we could not determine the completeness of those files.
  4. Consistency (Procedure #4, Page 9)
    The school could not provide the teachers’ scan sheets for 31 of the 59 student files in our sample. In addition, 19 students had transferred in. Scan sheets were not available for these students. Also, the school did not provide report cards for 11 students, and two students’ file did not include a transcript. Of the records available for our review, we noted the following: 

    1. Two (2.0) credits were reported on the transcript of one student (for Army Jr. ROTC). The report card reported 1.0 credit.
  5. Accuracy (Procedure #5, Page 10)
    1. Carnegie Units and Letters of Understanding
      1. The transcripts of three students were not consistent with their Letters of Understanding as follows:
        1. One student’s transcript reported a credit of 1.0 for “Art 1 “. However, the Letter of Understanding reported a credit of 0.5 for the same course. Also, the transcript reported zero credits for electives. The Letter of Understanding reported 0.5 credits;
        2. One student’s transcript reported a credit of 1.0 for “Adapt Health and PE”. However, the Letter of Understanding did not report this credit; and
        3. One student’s transcript reported a credit of 2.0 for Army Jr. ROTC. However, the Letter of Understanding awarded a credit of 1.0.
      2. We could not determine whether classes taken and credits earned by 15 students were in accordance with DCPS Carnegie Unit requirements for the following reasons:
        1. Two student’s file did not contain a transcript;
        2. One student’s file contained a Letter of Understanding that was not completed by a counselor. In addition, the credits had not been properly calculated;
        3. The school could not provide a Letter of Understanding for 14 students;
      3. The Letters of Understanding in our sample did not report hours earned for community service.
    2. Mathematical accuracy of credits
      The school could not provide report cards for 11 students. In addition, the transcript of one student reported 2.0 credits awarded for Army Jr. ROTC, a one-year course while the report card showed 1.0 credit for this course.
    3. Grade changes
      The school could not provide electronic records for 6 students. The procedure was completed with respect to the remaining students without exception.
    4. Missing grades
      The procedure was completed without exception.
    5. Independent studies
      This school does not offer independent studies.
    6. Transfer credit
      The procedure was completed without exception.
  6. Tampering (Procedure #6, Page 11)
    Of the 59 student records included in our sample: 

    1. Twenty files were incomplete;
    2. The school could not provide scan sheets for 31 students;
    3. Scan sheets were not available for an additional 19 students who had transferred in;
    4. The school could not provide the electronic files for 6 students.
      We also noted that all administrative staff (i.e., principal, assistant principals, registrar and counselors) used the same password to gain read/write access to students’ electronic record. Because of these factors, the opportunity for tampering was greatly enhanced and the reliability of the students’ records was questionable.

Conclusion:

Based on the procedures performed, we conclude that:

  1. Internal controls were inadequate;
  2. Student records were incomplete, inconsistent, inaccurate, and unreliable;
  3. We could not conclude with respect to tampering because a significant number of files selected for review were not made available to us.



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