The Washington Post

Probe of past D.C. test cheating called ‘impractical’ (update)

(Update: Ed Committee chair won’t call for new probe)

Don’t expect much from the D.C. Council in the way of a serious investigation into cheating by educators on high-stakes standardized tests in the city’s public schools when Michelle Rhee was chancellor.

While the council’s Education Committee will discuss the standardized test cheating scandal this week at a previously scheduled hearing — which was, ironically, intended to be about test security — the chairman of the panel says it would be “impractical” to do another investigation.

You see, there’s already been several probes into past cheating by educators on the  student D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams. Two — one by a private testing firm and the other by the D.C. Inspector General — were extremely limited. Another, by the U.S. Education Department’s Inspector General, resulted in no action taken, though the extent of the investigation is unclear.

Results of a new investigation into cheating on 2012 tests — after test security was tightened — were released last Friday and teachers in 18 schools were implicated. And that was after test security had been tightened. Also last week, a secret 2009 memo, published by journalist John Merrow and written by a data specialist hired by the schools administration of then chancellor Rhee, said there were suspicions that up to 200 teachers in numerous schools had cheated on 2008 tests.

Still, my colleague Emma Brown reported, Education Committee Chairman David Catania isn’t going to pursue it. He said that while he is “bewildered by the narrow scope” of the D.C. Inspector General’s investigation, which lasted 17 months and focused on only one school, he still think investigating old allegations “would be impractical and would yield little in terms of accountability.” Catania said it would be better to tighten test security and beef up ways to identify cheating in the future.

Perhaps he hasn’t paid attention to the Atlanta cheating scandal, where two successive governors supported an independent probe by investigators with subpoena powers that just led to the indictment of former superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 other educators for massive cheating.

Earlier, Brown had learned that a previously held hearing Catania is holding on Thursday about test security will also include a discussion about the report on 2012 cheating. The original intent of the hearing was to discuss the Testing Integrity Act of 2013, legislation to “codify testing security protocols and procedures” for high-stakes accountability tests, according to the committee’s Web site. The bill (a description of which is replete with spelling errors on the Web site) would make it a violation of District law to facilitate cheating on a statewide assessment test, calls for test security training for teachers and others, and more.

The hearing was scheduled before last week’s publication of the secret 2009 memo and before the release of the report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on the 2012 test scores.

What really happened before that? Looks like we may never know.




Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · April 13, 2013

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