Cothorne was thrilled to land the Noyes job. Its test scores were among the best in the District, and it had been named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Education Department. But, just weeks into the school year, she couldn’t square those high test scores with what she says she saw in classrooms: mediocre teaching and faltering student performance. She began to worry that the scores were fraudulent.
On Nov. 3, 2010, just hours after her students took the DC-BAS test, a practice exam, she discovered three staffers with pencil erasers poised above test answer sheets, in the midst of what looked to her like changing answers, she told me. That night, she says, she called two D.C. school officials she trusted to report what she had found. She assumed they would report the matter to their boss, then-
acting schools chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Cothorne said she doesn’t know whether Henderson was ever informed. But on Nov. 19, according to Cothorne and documents she filed in federal court, Ryan ordered her to his office and said: “I heard that you don’t respect the legacy that has been built at Noyes.”
Ryan did not respond to requests for comment, and a man who answered a phone listed in his name declined to comment.
Cothorne first told her story to education correspondent John Merrow in a PBS Frontline documentary scheduled to air again Thursday. She also gave a detailed account in a two-hour telephone interview with me and my wife, Linda Mathews, who conceived and edited a March 2011 series in USA Today that revealed widespread wrong-to-right erasures at several D.C. schools, particularly at Noyes.
Cothorne also filed a federal complaint against the D.C. government in May 2011, alleging that the awards Noyes and the school system had won had been obtained fraudulently by faking test scores. That lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was unsealed in December and was publicly reported this week, after the U.S. Education Department and the U.S. Justice Department decided against joining it.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, in a statement, said Cothorne’s lawsuit was based on “fictitious claims.” She said “there is no widespread cheating at DCPS.”
What is most striking about Cothorne’s account, which fits with testing data and previous reports about Ryan’s methods, is that no D.C. official with the power to investigate her complaints ever bothered to interview her about them. In the federal complaint, she identifies Josh Edelman and Hilary Darilek, then both prominent D.C. school officials, as the persons she called on Nov. 3 after accidentally discovering the apparent erasures.