LIVE FROM APS CENTRAL OFFICE: The key findings of the Atlanta Public Schools CRCT probe are being presented right now to the school board by Gary Price, chair of the blue ribbon commission assembled to look into possible test tampering.
“There is no evidence of any district-wide or centrally coordinated effort to manipulate the 2009 CRCT scores,” Price told the school board, to slight applause.
I would say the commission is clearing Superintendent Beverly Hall, saying that most of the system’s astounding wrong to right erasures are clustered in 12 schools, not in all 58 identified in the test sheet audit by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
The blue ribbon commission found evidence of school-wide tampering at 12 schools by 78 individuals, 30 of whom are administrators and 48 of whom are teachers.
In 13 schools, they found unusual data indicative of irregularities that led them to refer 25 employees, eight of whom are administrators, 17 of whom are teachers, for further review by APS.
In the remaining schools, there are six individuals the commission is referring for APS followup.
Price spoke to the culture of APS schools. “People are being held accountable and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Price said, “but there needs to be a balance with positive, supportive and ethical behavior.”
They found “false positives” in some schools where the data might suggest tampering, but a deeper look by outside experts did not substantiate cheating.
Price outlined his commission’s efforts to find out what happened: 11 commission meetings, 300 interviews, reviews of 50,000 e-mails, data, hotline reports, test logs, school “badging” to see who went in and out of schools and used their APS badge for entry, CRCT chain of command (who handled the tests), school files and performance incentives paid to schools for CRCT upticks.
“Not every school is adhering to testing protocols, whether it is the chain of command or where things are being locked up. There is opportunity to tighten it up,” said Price.
A full house is on hand for this session, including APS principals, community leaders and outspoken critics of the system.
I spoke briefly to Superintendent Beverly Hall before the meeting, who said she welcomed the presence of her critics. “This is an important issue. They need to be here,” she said.
I am already getting e-mails from Hall’s critics charging that the commission’s final report is a whitewash. I think this issue is going to haunt Hall and APS for a long time.
But the hired national testing security expert is now explaining in detail why the rates of erasure were not as extraordinary as the state audit might suggest.
“You should not use only one statistical indicator,” said John Fremer, president of Caveon Test Security. “You really ought to use more information than wrong to right answers.”
He said a more telling measure is the degree of agreement among students on what they got right and wrong. But the state would not allow APS to look at the tests to drill down for that additional data.
“You really ought to have these multiple analysis for every single student so when you sit down you base it on four different pieces of data,” said Fremer.
What the state did was superficial, said Fremer, although he quickly amended his descriptor to “ordinary.”
With 17 years in testing security and analysis, Fremer suggested the wrong to right audit was a first step, but that it was not sufficient to prove cheating.
The panel’s findings met with criticism.
“The whole report should be thrown out, with the state stepping in to conduct a full forensic audit of APS,” state John Sherman, president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation. “The intimidation of witnesses, the conflict of interest that every single member of the Blue Ribbon Commission carried with them to this investigation and the fact that APS has been cited for cheating previously to this scandal denotes that the results be thrown out. Fresh, independent research is needed to uncover the truth about APS.”