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UPDATED: Ga. Governor Digging Deeper Into Test Cheating Concerns

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Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue will appoint a special investigator to look into allegations of cheating on the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in the Atlanta school system and in the Dougherty County (which includes Albany) school district, he announced today in a meeting with the state's board of education.

Both school districts had consultants conduct investigations into allegations of test score tampering after the state education department raised concerns and ordered the reviews. Gov. Perdue, among others, did not find the investigations went far enough.

"Those two investigations into the 2009 CRCT tests were both deemed to be incomplete and lacking the substance asked of them," Bert Brantley, the governor's spokesman told me.

Brantley said Gov. Perdue will announce the special investigator soon, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

The Atlanta schools investigation, which has produced a raft of unwelcome national headlines for Superintendent Beverly Hall, had been criticized in recent days as less than impartial, after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper revealed those conducting the investigation had been in contact with Hall and the school board's president during it.

In several media interviews, Hall has promised to deal "severely" with any employees who are determined to have participated in cheating. She recently removed the principals of 12 schools the report said had widespread evidence of cheating, after the investigation concluded there was reason to believe more than 100 school system employees had been involved in tampering with standardized tests.

The superintendent has been criticized for focusing on those 12 schools and not all 58 initially highlighted.

"They did some data analysis that frankly seemed to be intended to winnow down the list rather than look at all 58 schools that had been identified," Brantley said.

He said Gov. Perdue was also displeased with the investigation in Dougherty County, which said there was no evidence of wrongdoing, but failed to explain suspicious erasure marks on tests there.

The governor's move is intended "to ensure we get a full and complete investigation and get to the bottom" of what happened with the tests in the two districts, Brantley said.

A state senator and a taxpayers association have called for Hall's resignation, while others have said the alleged tampering doesn't invalidate all the progress Atlanta schools have made under her 11-year tenure.

The National Assessment Governing Board, for example, said the controversy doesn't discredit the evidence shown by Atlanta's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress through a project it participates in with other urban districts. The Council of Great City Schools' Mike Casserly noted in an op-ed he wrote for the AJ-C that Atlanta has made the fastest gains in reading of any urban district in the nation.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Atlanta district said: "APS welcomes the Governor's call for a special investigator to look into this matter, and the district will fully cooperate with all aspects of that investigation." It also noted that it has offered a 12-week "accelerated academic recovery program" to students who didn't meet test standards at all 58 schools involved.

I'll let you know more as it develops, including responses from the school systems and who the governor picks to lead the probe. I've not yet heard back from Dougherty County on a response to the governor's decision to do his own investigation.

[Update 8/18 6:30 p.m.: I spoke with R.D. Harter, Dougherty's spokesman, a little while ago. He says that while the district welcomes the new investigation, district officials have been frustrated by interactions with the state to date.

"We don't think the governor's office of student achievement has been supportive of a thorough investigation," he said. We do not condone cheating

The district has requested information it believes would help it ferret out any cheaters, such as the ratio of answers that went from wrong to right, versus those that went from one wrong answer to another. Absent that an other information, Harter said, the district's efforts are stymied.

And because of the attention, parents have told their young children not to erase anything on the test, which is in conflict with what classroom teachers, who tell students to use a process of elimination, have told students.

Harter said the district replied to a request from state officials for more information in mid-July and were given no inkling the response was considered unsatisfactory until Gov. Perdue's remarks today.

"We feel that is not just," he said. "They did not give us an opportunity. They didn't let us know our response was inadequate."]

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