Tag Archives: cheating on state tests

N.Y. Proposes Several Measures to Stop Test Cheating

Atlanta Teachers

New York’s Department of Education has suggested some measures to make it harder for cheating to occur on state achievement tests, a necessary step since the outcome of these tests effect the futures of students, the ratings of public schools, and teachers’ careers. We need only look back at what happened in Atlanta and several other districts to be reminded of what happens when the ambition to procure high test results overrules integrity and reason.

With the recent prosecution of a college student who was accused of using a fake ID in order to take SAT college board exams for six of his friends, the revoking of eight Atlanta teachers and three school administrators teaching licenses for cheating, and investigations of cheating in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., New York’s Department of Education has recognized the necessity of dealing with this serious issue.

The report issued to the state Board of Regents targets cheating which occurs during the administration and scoring of Regents exams by students, teachers, and administrators. (Incredibly, it seems that in New York, teachers are involved in the process of scoring their own students’ exams. Now that is a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.)

The report zeroed in on “erasure analysis” since spot checks regarding wrong to right erasures on tests in seven unnamed schools noted “a statistically improbable grouping of scores” statewide which were just above the passing mark.

And records which were released on October 21 to The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Law request which was submitted in July uncovered an increasing apprehension regarding teachers prompting their students toward the right answers or inflating test scores. This was especially true with tests near the 65-percent passing mark.

Another issue mentioned in the state records provided to The Associated Press showed the difficulty for the state Department of Education to prove incidents of cheating when they operate with such a small staff. Many of these cases entail the erasing of wrong answers to correct answers with no direct evidence of what prompted students to make the changes in the first place; were they changing them on their own after careful consideration or were they being encouraged by someone else to change them?

The occurrences of cheating on these exams have caused frustration to both parents and students because sometimes all of the scores have been expunged due to cheating. This forces all students to retake the exams in the summer of the following year, whether they were cheating or not.

The report sent to the state Board of Regents on October 17 sets education policy and keeps the state from trailing most states in efforts to combat cheating, as they have been doing. It puts them on course toward taking and scoring Regents exams on computers by 2014, allowing faster analysis of answers and allowing teachers to score tests from other counties within their states. This would potentially mean that teachers would not score their own students’ tests, thus removing the temptation to cheat. 

Additional changes recommended by New York’s Department of Education, as reported by Education Week, include:

• Spending more than $2 million in the 2012-13 budget to spot check more Regents exams and move to greater analysis of all Regents exams and their scoring.
• Prohibiting most teachers from scoring their own students’ exams, although some benefit was seen in allowing teachers to be present during testing and proctor their students’ tests.
• Retaining tests for more than one year, as now required, for potential investigations.
• Moving to “centralized scanning” of multiple-choice questions to better spot possible cheating. New York is unique in relying on local scoring, “and significant investments have been made at the local level to develop infrastructure.” That includes assigning teachers to scoring duties and hiring substitutes to cover their classes.

APS: Educators Placed on Leave While New Teachers Attend Orientation

So much to do and so little time to do it! I’m sure that is what interim Superintendent Erroll Davis Jr. is feeling right now, along with all of the teachers and administrators, some returning and many just beginning in Atlanta Public Schools.

With school starting on August 8, there is so much yet to be done that the task must seem a little insurmountable, yet Atlanta Public Schools are valiantly working to get this school year off to a good start, in spite of the black cloud that hovers over the district in the wake of their system-wide cheating scandal.

First order of business was to deal with the approximately 137 educators who were implicated in the scandal and who didn’t retire or take Davis’ offer to resign rather than face termination. On Thursday, it was announced that notices were being sent out to these individuals stating that they have officially been placed on paid administrative leave until the district has time to go through each employee’s case. These educators have the option to ask for a hearing if they choose, and if they are found innocent of any wrongdoing at that hearing, they can return to work.

Davis, who has said from the beginning that these employees will not work with children in APS ever again, announced his plans to begin termination proceedings as quickly as possible. With so much to accomplish before the school year begins, this may take a little while.

Meanwhile, recently-hired Atlanta teachers spent all day Thursday in orientation meetings conducted at Maynard Jackson High School in southeast Atlanta. With the scandalous cloud of cheating still looming and the sheer numbers of newly-hired teachers and administrators, you would think the atmosphere would be virtually pulsing with tension and stress.  

But APS spokesman Keith Bromery reported, “I talked to the people over there, and they say morale is very high. Teachers are very excited.” 

And was the cheating scandal addressed at orientation? “I wouldn’t call it a pep talk,” Bromery said.  “It’s more like informing them as to where things stand right now and to tell them that hopefully our achievement is going to continue as we’ve experienced over the past 10 to 20 years in the district.”

With the first day of school just around the corner, there is still so much to be done at APS. First and foremost, there are still positions to be filled with precious little time in which to fill them, which can lead to hiring educators who are not highly qualified in the race to get teachers in classrooms. Davis expressed his concern to CBS Atlanta News of his fears that trying to fill these positions too quickly might lead to under qualified teachers slipping through the cracks. With the added pressure to undo the damage done to students over the last decade, this could be hugely problematic.

Tonya Jenkins, a parent of a fourth-grader, expressed her concerns regarding the race to fill these positions to CBS reporter  Rebekka Schramm, saying, “They’re doing it so fast, it just makes me wonder if they’re gonna prescreen, do a good prescreening of the teachers that’s coming in.”

Davis is also concerned about the caliber of administrators and principals they hire this year for the same reasons, therefore, principals will be appointed on an interim basis, which means that they have a year to prove that they are right for the job.

So the search continues for teachers and principals to fill the numerous holes left by those who will not be returning. “My biggest challenge right now is finding intellectual capital on the academic side,” Davis said. “The entire leadership structure in our academic shop has been decimated.”

Wow! The task is overwhelming and the odds aren’t stacked in Atlanta schools’ favor. But there is a desire here to prove that those who remain at APS, those who had nothing to do with the dark cloud that hovers over these schools, will do whatever they can to remove the cloud and let the sun shine on these schools once again.

A daunting task? Absolutely, and it’s not for the timid or irresolute. So I hope that those who remain and these who are newly hired are up for the challenge. They will definitely be under the microscope by their superiors, their students’ parents, and their students as they go about their business. My advice to them would be to try to ignore it all and just do your job everyday to the best of your ability, remembering that you are there to serve those children who have been placed in your care.

Tonya Jenkins is one of the many who will be watching. “I just hope that they do the right thing by the teachers that were not guilty, and they do the right thing by the children. It’s all about the kids.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself! It is all about the kids, and I, for one, am rooting for Atlanta Public Schools. Best of luck in this brand new school year!

Only Seven Atlanta Educators Resign After Cheating Scandal

I confess that sometimes I just don’t understand people and the choices they make. Take the recent news out of Atlanta Public Schools, for example.

Let me remind you that Erroll B. Davis Jr., Atlanta’s interim school superintendent, gave educators who were accused by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation of cheating on state tests till Wednesday, July 20, to resign voluntarily from their jobs rather than face termination.

Keith Bromery, spokesman for APS, explained, “All the superintendent wanted to do was give people the opportunity to resign or retire without having some sort of termination notice on their record.”

Now, this seems remarkably fair and even gracious of Davis, who knew that termination notices would include detailed information regarding each educator’s alleged involvement and participation in the cheating scandal. So, wouldn’t you expect that the majority of these heretofore unwise educators would wise up enough to see that they were being offered a more graceful departure, and quietly resign?

One would think, but the sad news is that by July 20, only seven of the 178 educators who were implicated in the most widespread cheating scandal ever took Davis up on his offer and resigned. Only seven? How could that be? It’s almost ludicrous, isn’t it? This leaves me wondering if the other 171 are just crazy!

They may be, but more than that, I feel they are or have been misguided. Misguided by a teacher advocacy group, the Georgia Association of Educators, who has advised these educators not to resign, claiming that the school system is taking action before all of the evidence has been revealed. 

As a result, the 171 remaining principals and teachers will be facing termination proceedings. Bromery stated that these educators are entitled to ask for hearings to dispute their firings.

At this time, there is no set time frame for these proceedings, and Bromery said, “It’s going to take a while.”

In the meantime, prosecutors from three Atlanta-area counties are trying to determine whether they will file criminal charges against those involved.

I understand that we have a natural inclination to protect ourselves from bad things like being fired or being prosecuted for committing a crime. So, I kind of understand why these educators were talked into waiting it out and seeing what happens after all of the dust settles from this investigation.

But, I cannot forget that these are teachers and principals who entered their professions to teach and serve children. And they blew it! Their actions harmed students and falsified their academic progress, costing many children the extra services they needed, thus putting them further behind. They lied, they cheated, and they caused damage to the students they were supposed to serve.

Isn’t it time to do the right thing? Isn’t it time to teach these students of Atlanta Public Schools a new lesson, one of humility and honesty? Isn’t it time to take the blame for what was done, to admit that it was wrong, and apologize for your dishonest actions? You are educators, after all, and your job is to teach kids the responsible way, the right way. What are you waiting for?

You, who are among the 171 who chose not to resign, the world is watching you. Remember those whose lives you touched before your fears overshadowed your good sense. Remember what motivated you to be an educator and the values and morals you have taught so many children throughout your career. You face the toughest lesson you will ever have to teach, but teach it, you must. Do precisely what you have probably asked countless students to do; own up to your mistakes and learn from them.

Be motivated by what you know is right, not by what advocates would tell you is right. A watching world will judge teachers and principals everywhere, not just in Atlanta, by what you do next. I implore you to do what you know is right now, and in the process, you will teach your former students a lesson they need to hear from you, a lesson you have probably taught them many times in the past, although somehow along the way, you forgot it yourself: honesty is always the best policy.

Updates on Atlanta Public Schools

I wanted to write a quick update on specific things that have been happening in Atlanta Public Schools as well as to address issues some employees of these schools are facing since the terrible news came out about widespread cheating in their district on their Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCT) over the last ten years.

 

Erroll B. Davis Jr. told CNN that Atlanta Public Schools won't allow educators involved in test cheating to "remain in our system."

First update: Erroll B. Davis Jr., who was appointed interim superintendent after Superintendent Hall resigned, will be staying a little longer than first anticipated. The APS board of education extended Davis’s superintendent’s contract through June 2012, in order to bring stability to the district and to receive full reaccreditation. 

Second update: This past Thursday, Interim Superintendent Davis sent letters out to all of the educators who had been accused of participating in improprieties in testing procedures. The letters ordered the 178 who were implicated in the scandal to resign by Wednesday, July 20, or face termination. And this past Monday, at a school board meeting, he also replaced a school principal and four superintendents.

Davis received approval from the school board to provide mandatory ethics training for employees of the school district and to provide the necessary remediation for the students who might have been improperly allowed to advance. It is estimated that changing students’ scores may have affected thousands of students over the last several years.

Davis spoke to CNN about the children who had been failed by this scandal and said, “We can’t allow that to happen, and we can’t allow anyone who was involved with that to remain in our system. We will identify those children, and we will make the requisite investments to remediate the wrongs that were done against them.”

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Third update: When Dr. Hall resigned her position as superintendent of APS, she wrote a letter of apology for the testing scandal, at the same time denying any knowledge or participation in it personally. The GBI report claims, however, that at the very least, Hall should have been aware of what was going on, and is either guilty of negligence in monitoring her school system or compliance in the scandal.

Courtney English, a member of the APS school board who attended Atlanta Public schools and a former social studies teacher for the district is speaking out demanding more than an apology from their former superintendent. Dr. Hall was the recipient of more than $78,000 in bonus pay in the 2006-2007 school year, and English says she needs to make restitution by paying it back.

English told Fox 5 News, “You take accountability for what happens on your watch. If she wants to begin to pay back this city and truly demonstrate that she accepts full responsibility for everything that happened under her watch, she will…gladly repay some of the moneys that may have been earned based on fraudulent test scores.”

Although many in the community are demanding the same thing, Courtney is the only board member who has publicly advocated for Dr. Hall to make monetary restitution for her part in this scandal.

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Fourth Update: Even Texas is facing the fallout from the APS scandal, as the Desoto Independent School District recently hired Kathy Augustine as their new superintendent. Augustine worked for Dr. Hall as the Deputy Superintendent until recently, and she has been implicated in the GBI report which called her the “god mother” of APS and named her as one of those administrators who were suspected of giving false information during the investigation.

The GBI report said of Augustine, “She told us she should not be held accountable for cheating that took place in APS classrooms under her authority. While this may be an appropriate defense to criminal charges, it is an absurd leadership concept.”

Augustine was honest with Desoto’s school board about the ongoing investigation at APS when she was being considered for the position in their schools, but with the full report out, the school board met to discuss how this report could impact their schools. They are seeking legal advice regarding Augustine’s contract and what their options are including terminating her contract and the possibility of appointing an interim superintendent in the meantime.
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Fifth update: Parents met with APS School Board members and Superintendent Davis at a town meeting Thursday night to find out how the scandal would affect their kids as they return to school in a few weeks.

Lakisha Wimby, one of these concerned parents said, “My concern is the kids. Nobody, even through all this CRCT cheating, nobody is thinking about the kids — what they know, what they don’t which kid was cheating for.”

In an attempt to calm their fears, Davis reassured them that no one who had been implicated in the scandal would be working in the schools when school resumed on August 8. “It is not an overnight process to get rid of them; it certainly is an overnight process to tell them not to show up,” Davis said.

They also assured parents they would have no problem filling the vacancies, in spite of the number of positions that need to be filled. With districts all around them who had to lay off teachers due to budget cuts, there are many qualified teachers looking for jobs. Another option they are considering is to call back retired teachers who are willing to return to their jobs.

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Finally, I wanted to end this blog on a positive note, so let me tell you about some of the teachers who were not involved in this scandal in any way. Nebrina Anderson, Katrina Reed, and Ronnie Thomas are teachers from Parkside Elementary, one of the schools named in the investigation when three other teachers at Parkside admitted prompting students to change incorrect answers without giving them the correct answers.

Katrina, Nebrina, and Ronnie are worried about the impact this scandal will have on the students that they teach, so they are starting a back-to-school campaign to spread the message that APS is not in shambles, and they want the public to know that the majority of their colleagues are dedicated to teaching the right way.

Katrina Reed told Fox 5 News, “It’s been hard for me to think that my students are questioning their hard work. It’s been hard for me to hear that the students at APS are being labeled as trapped when I know that there are talented people at APS.”

When asked about the culture of fear and intimidation that led to the cheating, Katrina said, “The targets are set in May for the entire district, and there are thousands of teachers like myself who did not fall victim to that pressure. There are thousands of teachers who put in the hard work instead of taking the easy route.”

These teachers want the public to know that the teachers who show up on the first day of school will be focused on making sure their students excel. Ronnie Thomas said, “Good teaching and learning still exists within APS.”

And Nebrina Anderson said, “No doubt, this is a hurtful thing, it is extremely disturbing, but now how do we move forward to be stronger and better?”

Even with good teachers, involved administrators, and an excellent interim superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools have their work cut out for them, but I think the desire to prove that they can rise above the scandal will power great things. I look forward to hearing positive reports from these schools this year through a lot of tough, dedicated work.