Local: Education

35 D.C. classrooms investigated for possible cheating

Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Thirty-five District classrooms are being investigated for possible cheating on last spring's standardized tests, nearly double the number of classes investigated in 2010, school officials said Thursday.

The Office of the State Superintendent for Education quietly concluded its analysis of anomalies on the 2011 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System by recommending that nearly three dozen classrooms -- less than 1 percent of the 4,279 classrooms tested -- be further investigated by an independent firm that OSSE is expected to choose Monday.

A spokesman for OSSE declined to comment on which classrooms were being investigated and why. But school officials picked them after zeroing in on unusual gains in student test scores from 2010 to 2011, and abnormal numbers of wrong answers that were erased and corrected.

Test score gains account for up to 50 percent of D.C. Public Schools' teachers' evaluations, which some observers say creates pressure that could make doctoring students' exams seem tempting.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told The Washington Examiner last summer that one teacher already had been fired for a "testing impropriety" in 2011.

"The call for total transparency and accuracy demanded that we take the time to bring in an independent agency to put to rest any amount of suspicion regarding our students' performance," Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said late Thursday afternoon.

Of the 18 classrooms investigated last year, three had their scores tossed out for suspected or confirmed cheating. Those classrooms were at Noyes Education Campus, C.W. Harris Elementary and Leckie Elementary.

Teacher evaluations that rely on student test scores -- thus tying student performance to an adult's job security and pay grade -- have received increased attention this past year as cheating scandals have erupted nationwide.

In Atlanta, at least 178 teachers and principals at 44 public schools corrected students' tests to increase their scores, going so far as to hold "cheating parties" to cook the books together, according a state report in July.

A USA Today investigation cast doubt on dramatic testing gains made in some D.C. schools under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. On the 2009 reading exam at Noyes, seventh-grade students in one classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures -- odds better than winning the Powerball.

Chuck Thies, a local political analyst and charter-school parent, said he hoped the increasing number of classrooms being investigated showed that school officials were cracking down on cheating -- not that more teachers were daring to cheat.

"Imagine if you knew you were being hyperscrutinized, that the eyes of the country were on you to see if you were cooking the books," Thies said. "The hubris of a teacher that would then engage in cheating. ... It's audacious and absolutely idiotic."

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