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Report Confirms Cheating at One D.C. School

The District of Columbia's Office of the Inspector General released a report yesterday confirming that teachers tampered with accountability tests administered at one school, Noyes Education Campus, which enrolls students in preschool through 8th grade.

The school's performance on standardized tests earned it attention from local and federal officials; teachers were given performance bonuses and the U.S. Department of Education gave the school a National Blue Ribbon award in 2009. Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the school system from 2007 to 2010, used the school as an example of how reform efforts could improve academic performance.

But Noyes came under scrutiny after USA Today questioned its large performance gains in a 2011 article. The article noted that the school was among 103 district schools that had been flagged for higher-than-average numbers of wrong-to-right erasures on students' test sheets.

The report said that one teacher would look over the shoulder of students as they were taking the test, silently pointing to wrongly answered questions as a signal to the student that they needed to come up with a different answer. "Teacher 1 said that if the student did not then select the correct answer, he/she continued to point at the question until the student filled in the correct answer," the report says.

Another teacher interviewed in the report said the school's test coordinator distributed the official test to teachers before the exam date and told teachers to review the test with students. However, that teacher said they were not explicitly instructed to reveal test answers.

In all, the inspector general's report said that security flaws at the school were identified from 2008-09 to 2010-11, and "many of the security issues noted may be applicable to other schools as well." However, the inspector general's office said it found insufficient evidence to warrant expanding the investigation to other schools, saying that high wrong-to-right erasure rates at other schools are not in themselves a sign of cheating, the cheating at Noyes did not appear to be widespread, and there weren't enough investigative leads to pursue at other schools.

Kaya Henderson, the current chancellor of the 47,000-student District of Columbia school system, released a statement saying she hoped the report would "put to rest claims of widespread wrongdoing."

Henderson also noted that the school system has incorporated many of the security improvements recommended by the report, including improving monitoring around test materials.

Henderson's statement continued: "The OIG's report confirms what we have long suspected: The vast majority of our staff did nothing wrong; our gains and our losses are real and no longer tainted by false allegations. This report provides important information that identifies one instance of wrongdoing in the past and allows us to move forward to improve testing in the future."

Earlier this year, Henderson addressed a symposium of experts in test security, saying that school systems needed a framework of best practices that could help them detect irregularities and investigate allegations." At that time, she said, "we've failed to create any national accepted statistical analysis to determine when scores are suspect, and we failed to propose a reliable investigative plan when results are called into question."

The speakers at the symposium offered some tips for districts to follow, including improving security around test materials and vigorously checking into all allegations of wrongdoing, even if the details are sketchy.

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