Thursday, January 23, 2014

What Will We Tell The Children? Philadelphia Edition

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Of course, cheating on standardized tests hasn't, and doesn’t, and couldn't happen here. At least, no one has proved any cheating in Arizona because our Department of Education doesn't think it's worth looking into. (See Carpe Diem charter school note at the end of this post.) But in Atlanta, teachers and principals have pleaded guilty to tampering with student tests, and last week, three Philadelphia Public School principals were fired.

Three Philadelphia Public Schools principals were fired last week after an investigation into test cheating that has implicated about 140 teachers and administrators, a spokesman for the district said Wednesday.

The action follows years of investigating the results of state standardized math and reading tests taken from 2009 to 2011. The investigation, conducted by the school district and the state department of education, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, identified 33 schools — including three public charter schools — where an analysis of test answer sheets found a suspicious number of wrong answers that were erased and made right.

I know, educators should be better than that. But they’re not. Just like people everywhere, some of them are going to yield to temptation when their prestige, their salaries and maybe their jobs hang on their students’ scores on state tests. One of the many problems with our high stakes standardized testing is that it corrupts educators. Some of them are going to cheat. And when they cheat, honest teachers and administrators are punished for their students' un-doctored results (“Why aren’t your scores as good as Ms. Becker’s?”), or they decide they need to indulge in a little creative test manipulation themselves to level the playing field.

Have Arizona educators cheated? We don’t know, but there are enough indicators to make it reasonably likely. Both Atlanta and Philadelphia launched thorough investigations of schools where evidence indicated there might have been cheating. Arizona has blown the whole thing off, even though a 2011 Arizona Republic article gave damning evidence indicating some schools' scores were inflated. Case in point: Carpe Diem charter school in Yuma.

The school posted some of the highest gains in three grades on the AIMS test of any of the 1,337 schools analyzed by The Arizona Republic and USA Today.

Testing experts say gains of that size warrant scrutiny. In Carpe Diem's case, the testing company also flagged one grade on the AIMS reading test in spring 2010 for having a higher-than-average number of erasure marks.

Carpe Diem and its "blended learning" model are much loved by the conservative "School Choice" movement and by our Ed Supe John Huppenthal. It's taken its show on the road and opened schools in other states, based on its stellar overstated record of academic achievement. A Carpe Diem cheating scandal would be bad for the conservative brand. Is that why Huppenthal has decided to look away? Maybe, or maybe he's so busy trying to get his computer system updated, he doesn't have time to look into problems like this.

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