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Local: Education

D.C. students tipped off investigators to cheating teachers

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Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

The beginning of the end for a D.C. teacher was when a Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School student came home with test scores so high they made his parent suspicious.

The parent asked how the child had done so well. The child replied that his teacher gave him the right answers. The parent made a phone call.

A District teacher and another school employee were fired, and two more teachers will soon be fired due to cheating in the 2011 administration of the DC Comprehensive Assessment System exams, school officials said Friday. Each of these terminations followed interviews with students who said their teacher inappropriately assisted them. Students' scores are linked to teachers' evaluations and paychecks in DC Public Schools classrooms.

Blatant cheating was confirmed in three classrooms of the 70 investigated. The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which oversees both the traditional school system and the city's public charter schools, hired Alvarez & Marsal to analyze test results for cheating and interview more than 300 students, teachers and administrators.

"We have done as much as we can to protect the identity of the students and teachers we interviewed," said Hosanna Mahaley, the superintendent of D.C. schools, adding, "In many of the cases, we found out about wrongdoing through students."

To protect the children from backlash, OSSE is declining to release any details about the students who turned in their teachers.

Though the District reviews its standardized tests annually for violations, this was the first year that OSSE appointed a test security firm to investigate potential cheating. In the past, OSSE has allowed DCPS and each charter school to conduct their own investigations, with some of the schools hiring independent reviewers and others opting to not.

Of the 5,089 classrooms tested on the 2011 standardized exams, there were just three confirmed cases of teachers cheating to enhance their students' performance.

At King, two students reported that a teacher pointed out the right answers on the tests. In the same classroom, a third student said the proctor read questions aloud, raising his or her voice to signal the correct answer.

In a classroom at Langdon Education Campus, two students said the test administrator provided assistance to them and other students on the year-end exams.

A teacher at Northeast's Hyde Leadership Public Charter School told students when they had answers questions incorrectly.

The scores in all three classrooms have been invalidated. Both the teacher and test proctor at Hyde have been fired, Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, told The Washington Examiner.

The teachers at Langdon and King "are being referred for personnel action, which will likely end in termination," DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said.

Investigators also reviewed classrooms when answer sheets showed an unusual number of wrong answers erased and corrected; when students in a classroom tended to get similar scores; and when students made dramatic gains over the 2010 test administration.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com