The Washington Post

Catania: No plans to re-investigate alleged cheating in DCPS

D.C. Council Member David Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the newly reconstituted education committee, said Friday that he has no plans to investigate allegations that staff in some District schools cheated on standardized tests between 2008 and 2010.

Speaking on WAMU-FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, Catania pointed to a series of investigations — including by inspectors general for the city and the U.S. Education Department — that have cleared the DCPS of widespread cheating.

“We’ve had a number of sets of eyes on this issue,” he said, adding that he does plan to examine test-security protocols in city schools.

D.C. public schools came under scrutiny for alleged cheating in 2011, when USA Today published an investigation showing an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets in more than 100 schools.

Some of the schools with the highest erasure rates showed dramatic gains until test security was tightened, and then they showed dramatic decreases. Teachers and principals at schools with big gains stood to win thousands of dollars in cash bonuses during the tenure of former chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Cheating allegations resurfaced this week when PBS aired a “Frontline” television documentary in which the former principal of an award-winning D.C. school alleged that shortly after the administration of a mid-year practice exam, she walked into a room where three teachers were holding erasers and surrounded by hundreds of test booklets.

Adell Cothorne, the principal of Noyes Education Campus in 2010-11, said that after she tightened security, end-of-year test scores dropped more than 25 percentage points from the year before.

Cothorne’s account was the first such direct and public testimony about cheating in D.C. schools.

Before appearing on Frontline, Cothorne had filed a whistleblower complaint alleging “systemic” cheating in D.C. schools. That 2011 complaint triggered an investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s office of the inspector general, which this week said it had found no evidence of widespread cheating and would not pursue action against DCPS.

Cothorne told “Frontline” that she had not been interviewed by the city inspector general, which said in August that it had found no evidence of widespread cheating.

The federal IG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office did interview Cothorne in July 2011, however, and they shared their findings from that conversation with the D.C. inspector general, according to Marta Erceg of the U.S. Education Department. Cothorne’s allegations do not appear in the report that the city inspector general released in August.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.


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