USA Today story brings fresh scrutiny to erasure issue

Kudos to USA Today’s Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello for bringing fresh scrutiny to the erasure issues surrounding the DC CAS tests of the Michelle Rhee era. While their Monday story examining possible cheating on the exams covers some familiar ground (here), it drills down to new levels and leaves little question that District officials had no intention of trying to find out what really happened in the classrooms that had exceptionally high erasure rates. And by refusing to make former Noyes principal Wayne Ryan (since promoted to instructional superintendent) available for interviews, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson only reinforces the perception that DCPS has something to hide. The D.C. State Board of Education says it will hold hearings.

Caveon, the test security firm hired by OSSE to investigate erasures on the 2009 DC CAS, responded to questions raised in the piece about the rigor of its inquiry. In a statement released Monday evening, it said: “Caveon had complete freedom to carry out the interviews [with teachers] and review data with strong encouragement to use our best professional judgement and experience to inform our results and conclusions. There was no encouragement to minimize problems or “sugar coat” our results.”

Caveon said it is “not possible to know with certainty” the reasons underlying the high rate of erasures and test score gains. But it cited several possible factors, including test-taking strategies in which students were encouraged to review their work and consider alternate answers.

Rhee, for her part, denounced the USA Today investigation as an attack on school reform. In a statement Monday, Rhee said: “It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved . . . unless someone cheated.” In the video below, Rhee discussed the story with Tavis Smiley.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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