The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement began analyzing the percentage of erased answers with the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test results, uncovering what investigators said was widespread cheating on the CRCT in Atlanta Public Schools and questionable practices in other schools around the state. For the 2011 CRCT in exams for reading, English/language arts and math, the Governor’s Office found 20.8 percent of the “classrooms” at Dalton Middle had significantly more wrong to right erasures than the state average.
Principal Brian Suits said he’s concerned about the finding but believes the school may have been flagged because of the way groups of tests are submitted. He said he would be very surprised if an outside investigation local school officials ordered for themselves shows cheating occurred.
“We made extra sure this year that no kid was tested by any teacher that teaches him or her,” Suits said. “The statistical analysis, erasures by themselves, don’t prove cheating or wrongdoing, but they cause us to stop and analyze what we do, and that’s not altogether a bad thing if it causes us to be more efficient.”
Suits said officials submitted the tests by teacher teams rather than by homeroom classrooms so local administrators could more easily analyze which teachers’ students tended to have higher scores — and therefore which teaching methods were working well — when the test results came back. Teacher teams are groups of teachers who share the same students, albeit in different subjects, but those team submissions are counted as a single classroom for purposes of analysis.
Now Suits is concerned that that practice, intended to allow for more easy analysis of the data for the school of 1,625, skewed the erasure analysis. It’s easier to get to 20 percent of “classrooms” flagged when you’re looking at a small number of “classrooms” than it is to look at 100 homerooms, he said. According to the state analysis, 11 of the 53 “classrooms” were flagged.
Two other local schools — Tunnel Hill Elementary and Cohutta Elementary — were categorized in the erasure analysis as being of “minimal concern” for having between 6 and 10 percent of their classrooms flagged for a higher than average number of wrong to right erasures.
Schools are lumped into one of four “categories of concern” with those with 5 percent or fewer of classrooms flagged being “clear,” 6 to 10 percent flagged “minimal,” 11 to 20 percent “moderate” and 25 percent or higher “severe.” Only three of roughly 1,800 schools statewide were “severe,” and none of those were local.
A message left at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement on Monday wasn’t immediately returned, but Suits said state officials have agreed to reanalyze Dalton Middle’s results using the classroom by classroom method most middle schools employ.
Bill Weaver, a more than 10-years-retired deputy superintendent for Dalton Public Schools and past member of what is now the state’s Professional Standards Commission, has been hired to investigate the testing by a May 22 deadline. Information on how much the investigation will cost wasn’t immediately available.
Suits said a state monitor visited Dalton Middle when this year’s CRCT was administered in April and found no problems with the policies and process. Some of the Atlanta Public Schools teachers who cheated by helping their students on the test did so to get their school to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) by meeting a federally-mandated set of criteria that includes CRCT scores, investigators found. At Dalton Middle, the story is a little different. For the first time in years, the school in 2011 did not make AYP.
“To me, that’s the biggest irony of all,” Suits said.
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