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Class Struggle
In-depth coverage: Education Page |  The Answer Sheet
Posted at 12:28 AM ET, 05/05/2013

Did D.C. schools cheat? Ask the students.

Dear D.C. parents and grandparents: Want to uncover the truth behind the D.C. schools’ test-tampering allegations? Ask your student if he or she ever made erasures on the annual D.C. tests, and let me know the answer.

Five years ago, analysts found statistically improbable numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on D.C. test answer sheets. Several investigations have failed to determine the cause. But those investigators never asked students with many changes on their answer sheets what they remembered doing.

Did they really make as many as 10 wrong-to-right erasures each? D.C. data shows the average student rarely makes more than one or two. What led students to make so many mistakes and then switch to the right answers?

This year — finally — investigators from the Alvarez & Marsal consulting firm, hired by the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), tried to find out. They spoke to 16 students at Meridian Public Charter School whose answer sheets were full of changes on the 2012 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests. The school had 1,807 wrong-to-right erasures, an average of eight per student.

When asked what happened, the Alvarez & Marsal report said, “most students initially indicated that they had changed only a couple of answers.” Their recollections led investigators to conclude that administrators had gone rogue. Four Meridian administrators were asked how so many corrections were made. They offered no explanation.

Why didn’t investigators in earlier probes ask students how many answers they erased?

An Alvarez & Marsal spokeswoman said this was the first time OSSE provided erasure data for each student. OSSE officials said they did not do it earlier because they did not have an established data department.

After the Meridian students said they didn’t remember making many changes, the investigators showed each of them their extraordinary erasure counts. How did the students react? Were they surprised? Confused? Amused?

The report offers only this sentence: “However, when shown their actual data demonstrating high numbers of erasures, they generally, but not unexpectedly, did not challenge the data.” The investigators won’t tell me what that means. Here is my interpretation: What did you expect from fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders? Strange adults in authority showed them printed material at odds with their memories. Their parents rightly told them not to talk back to grown-ups. So they kept quiet.

There are thousands of other D.C. students whose answer sheets were full of corrections. If you have such kids at home, e-mail me at mathewsj@washpost.com. Does your child remember erasing any answers? When? Where? Maybe we can find a way to take their memories and illuminate events at your school.

For instance, was your child at the Community Academy Public Charter School in spring 2012? There were 214 wrong-to-right erasures in just one third-grade classroom, with one student’s answer sheet showing 17 such erasures on the math test.

At Langdon Education Campus in 2012, 11 students had 10 or more wrong-to-right erasures on a reading test.

During the 2011 D.C. tests, one classroom at J.O. Wilson Elementary School — the grade was not specified — averaged more than nine wrong-to-right erasures per child, a rate higher than all the other schools investigated that year. At Langdon in 2011, one classroom had nearly that many. Ludlow-Taylor and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools each had a classroom averaging more than six wrong-to-right erasures in 2011.

If your child’s memory of such tests doesn’t jibe with the score sheets, that merits more investigation. Maybe students can help us uncover the truth.

By  |  12:28 AM ET, 05/05/2013

 
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