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Florida Cheating Probe Implicates One School, Inconclusive for Others

An investigation by the Florida education department into an "unusually high number of erasures" on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) at four elementary schools in 2011 has implicated one school in cheating, the department announced Aug. 17, although not in the way you might expect.

The FCAT has been at the center of major controversies in Florida public schools this year, including mistakes made in the calculation of over 200 schools' grades on the state accountability system based on FCAT scores, and the state school board's scramble to change the cut score on the writing test after the vast majority of students stumbled on the tougher version of the exam implemented this year. So for the FCAT to be linked to possible cheating is just another brick in the wall, so to speak, of bad news for the exam this year.

Last year, for the first time, the Florida department was able to use analysis by Caveon Data Forensics to flag atypical testing results. The new analysis flagged FCAT results from the 2011 spring administration of the test, based on the high number of erasures, at four elementary schools. Those schools were the Charter School of Excellence in Broward County, Chaffee Trail Elementary in Duval County, Greensboro Elementary in Gadsden County, and Jefferson Elementary in Jefferson County (the schools are spread throughout the state and not clustered together). The department's Office of Inspector General subsequently opened an investigation into how the FCAT was administered in those schools.

The result? For three of the four schools, the Charter School of Excellence, Chaffee Trail, and Jefferson, "a determination could not be made about the cause of the higher number of wrong-to-right erasures," the department reported in a statement. The department reached that conclusion even though the odds dictated that the odds of the erasures, under "standardized conditions," was "above the conservative threshold of one in a trillion." In short, the rank smell of the results wrinkles the nose, but the rotten fish-head can't be located, or doesn't in fact exist.

Now, for the remaining school, Greensboro, the situation is clearer. The department reported that although the data analysis doesn't support the conclusion that test documents were altered by teachers to improve scores, teachers have in fact admitted that they coached or interfered with students' FCAT responses. So oddly enough, the data analysis has either proven inconclusive, or was superseded by the admission of Greensboro teachers themselves (as a result of the state probe) that they altered students' responses.

A spokeswoman for the department, Jamie Mongiovi, said Greensboro teachers involved in the erasures could lose their licenses as a result of their actions: "That's certainly something that we're still taking a look at."

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