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DCPS chief calls for national standards to investigate cheating

Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

The chief of D.C. Public Schools is calling for the creation of national standards for investigating cheating on exams, amid lingering scrutiny of the District's probe of potential cheating on standardized tests.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told education officials at a symposium on Tuesday that, in the absence of such guidelines, the community and media would never be satisfied with her efforts to detect cheating in D.C. classrooms.

"Because there is no standard, either for identifying potential wrongdoing or for investigating once cheating is alleged, we are left with a fuzzy picture of what reliable outcomes are," Henderson said at the symposium, convened by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

With no benchmark for reliable outcomes, "We turn tests -- which are in place so that we can celebrate students' successes and address our areas of concern -- into games for adults," she said.

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, 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.

D.C. Public Schools is being investigated by both the D.C. inspector general and the federal Education Department for potential cheating by teachers and administrators on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, the city's standardized tests. A USA Today investigation published last spring pointed to unusually high levels of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets across the District.

Of the 18 classrooms the District asked independent test security firm Caveon to investigate in 2010, only three had confirmed or suspected cheating. The city flagged 35 classrooms to be investigated from the 2011 testing rounds, less than 1 percent of the 4,279 classrooms tested.

Did that mean that cheating was contained, as officials said, or that it wasn't being investigated thoroughly enough, as critics contended?

"Couldn't we have looked at right-to-wrong erasures in more schools? Wasn't there more that our vendor could have done to identify inconsistencies? Couldn't investigations be more thorough? Can't we release the information to the press, so that the press and the public could decide for themselves? And the answer to all of those questions is, of course, yes," Henderson said.

"But there was no reason to believe that any of these actions would have yielded more reliable results or more accurate results. It was clear to me that it was very easy for a district like ours to fall down a rabbit hole of testing investigations, only to find out that because there are no widely accepted standards, there's no agreed-upon result that would satisfy the press or public."

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