Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Carpe Diem Charter, Cheating and Thucydides (aka John Huppenthal)

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Since I've been writing about the seven Arizona schools currently accused of cheating on the AIMS test by erasing students' wrong answers and bubbling in the right ones (here and here), I thought I'd bring back an oldie but a goodie: the story of possible erase-and-replace cheating at Yuma's Carpe Diem charter school in 2010, how it was handled and the school's fortunes since then.

As reported in the AZ Republic, Carpe Diem charter was flagged in 2010 for the high rate of erasures on its AIMS tests.
In spring 2010, the company that administers the AIMS test, Pearson Education, flagged Carpe Diem's sophomore AIMS reading test for having a higher-than-average number of erasure marks. Flagging means the state gets an alert. Pearson's report said a group of 27 Carpe Diem students who took the AIMS reading test had a total number of wrong-to-right erasure marks seven times as high as the state average.
The next sentence in the article is important: "The state has no plans to step up monitoring during the spring tests." The Department of Education was silent about the possible-to-probable cheating. And that's not surprising. Carpe Diem was the darling-du-jour of the "education reform"/privatization movement. It uses a version of what's called "blended learning" where the students spend half their time in front of computers using learning programs and half their time in class. The student-to-teacher ratio is twice that of most schools—50-to-1 rather than the usual 25-to-1 ratio. The privatization people loved it. Fewer pesky teachers to deal with, more money to spend on profit-generating computers and computerized learning programs. What's not to love?

Then-Ed Supe John Huppenthal spoke glowingly about the place. So did the Goldwater Institute. First of all, it was a charter school, and that makes it a winner almost by definition with those folks. Second, its students got test scores that "proved" Carpe Diem had hit on a superior learning model. From the AZ Republic article:
From spring 2007 to spring 2009, three grades at the charter school had big gains in math and/or reading.

In one example, a class rose from the 36th percentile in math in sixth grade to the 97th in seventh grade to the 99th in eighth grade.
Those are amazing gains. Or maybe not, since they coincided with the seven-times-higher-than-normal erasure rate, and over the next two years, the AIMS percentiles tumbled between 10 and 30 points. But the story of the gains became Ed Reform legend—leaving out that pesky erase-and-replace problem, of course.

What if Huppenthal looked into the possible cheating openly like Diane Douglas is doing with the investigation of seven schools she's sent up to the Attorney General's office? Chances are, it would have tarnished the school's reputation. Instead, Carpe Diem has expanded. It now has schools in Indiana and Ohio, with plans to open two more in Ohio and two in Texas this fall.

We don't know what, if anything, Huppenthal did as a result of the probable cheating at Carpe Diem. The only public response I read was in that Republic article: "The state has no plans to step up monitoring during the spring tests." It seems like careful monitoring of the tests from the moment they entered the school to the time they were in students' hands to the moment they left the school would have been the minimum expected response at a school that was accused of cooking its testing books.

However, I got an interesting comment from Thucydides/Huppenthal on one of the many stories I wrote about this situation when I was at Blog for Arizona. (If you remember, Huppenthal was outed as Thucydides by Blog for Arizona during last year's primary campaign.) In the 2012 post, I wrote,
Ed Supe John Huppenthal, who sings the praises of Carpe Diem, isn’t concerned about the possibility of cheating either. He didn’t investigate the matter and hasn’t set up any test monitoring to assure the tests reflect the students’ work.
To which Thucydides replied, 
How do you know Huppenthal didnt ibvestigate? The cheating, if there was any, went away.
Using some of the skills I picked up studying literary criticism in college, I'm going to speculate about what Huppenthal is actually saying in his cryptic comment. In think he's saying, "Yes, there was cheating, and yes, I did investigate, and because of my investigation, the cheating went away." All speculation, of course. Only Huppenthal and maybe some people at the Dept. of Ed. know the truth.

If I'm right, Huppenthal made the decision to confront the problem under cover of darkness, preserving the reputation of the school along with the reputation of high stakes test results as a reliable measure of student achievement. We would have been better served if he went public with the Carpe Diem cheating story and his response.

NOTE OF PRAISE FOR DIANE DOUGLAS: Our current Ed Supe Diane Douglas did the right thing by going public with the allegations of cheating on the AIMS test at seven schools. I don't know if there are any ulterior motives at play here, and I don't know if she named all the schools with suspicious patterns of erasures, but I'm glad she got this out in the open, and I hope A.G. Mark Brnovich gives the matter the serious attention it deserves.

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