“Widespread cheating was not found,” Mahaley added.
D.C. test scores have come under increasing scrutiny since USA Today published a March 2011 investigation showing an unusually high number of erasures from wrong to right answers in more than 100 D.C. public schools between 2006 and 2010.
In response, Chancellor Kaya Henderson asked D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby to examine the newspaper’s findings. U.S. Education Department officials have since joined the review.
Some observers said that suspicions about the city’s test scores will not be settled until the results of that longer-term investigation are made public. At stake is the public’s confidence not only in the test scores themselves, but in education reforms ushered in by Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle A. Rhee.
“Cheating can be covered up quite effectively when multiple persons at a school are involved,” said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Boston-based advocacy group that is critical of standardized testing. “Without a thorough investigation, you don’t know if what we’re looking at is the tip of the iceberg, most of the iceberg or the entire iceberg.”
District school officials say that the investigation released Friday is the most exhaustive to date.
For the first time, the state superintendent’s office hired an outside firm — Alvarez and Marsal, a New York-based management consulting firm — to review potential cheating citywide. The investigation cost about $400,000, Mahaley said.
Tests were administered in 5,089 classrooms last year. Of those, a total of 70 classrooms at 38 schools were flagged for investigation because they had some combination of suspicious wrong-to-right erasure marks, unusually big gains in students’ scores or unusual score patterns in a classroom.
Alvarez and Marsal reviewed forms and protocol at each school and interviewed more than 300 teachers, students and administrators, asking each whether they cheated or knew of someone else who did.
Students in three classrooms said their teachers had coached them toward correct answers. District officials have invalidated those classrooms’ test scores.
One of the teachers found to have cheated was a third-grade teacher at Hyde Leadership Academy, a public charter school now known as Perry Street Prep. Officials at the school said that the teacher — along with a proctor who was in the room during testing — left the school at the end of the 2010-11 school year before any investigation was initiated.
The other two teachers, employed by D.C. public schools, worked in 2011 at Langdon Education Campus and Martin Luther King Elementary.