Here is what the governor said today at the state Board of Education meeting about his decision to bring in a special investigator to probe CRCT cheating at APS and Dougherty County schools.
Please read below for my comments and for some key questions Sonny Perdue did not answer:
In his own words:
As you all know, I typically prefer to speak with you informally and personally. However today, with such a serious matter before us, it is more important for me to be precise so I have chosen to write out my remarks in advance.
It is a sad day.
I want to begin by thanking this Board for caring so much about this issue. You have all been strong, unwavering proponents of integrity in testing and I know you share my deep disappointment with the results Kathleen just outlined. To this day, we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what was revealed in the audit of 2009 CRCT results.
… Making our schools work for children requires everyone working together in the best interests of our students. Our education system is based on a solemn responsibility we adults have to our children. It is built on the assumption that the adults involved in education – from superintendents to classroom teachers to elected officials – are there for the right reasons.
That’s why, when the Office of Student Achievement flagged Georgia schools for apparent test alterations, the next step was for systems to conduct internal investigations to determine what had gone wrong. That course of action demanded a state and local partnership. OSA provided those systems with the necessary data and outlined the components that would constitute a thorough investigation.
While most districts complied with the charge from this body, both Dougherty County and Atlanta Public Schools responded with internal investigations that were woefully inadequate – both in scope and in depth. Where the state asked these local systems to cooperate fully to determine what happened during the 2009 administration of the CRCT, their efforts frankly fell short of the target.
In APS, audits flagged 58 schools where test results were widely irregular … where results of an erasure analysis were all but statistically impossible. In 43 of those 58 schools, the situation was so severe that 25 percent of all classes had wrong-to-right changes exceeding three standard deviations.
Most of us don’t normally deal with statistical concepts such as standard deviations, so let me convert this to something we’re all very familiar with – human height. The average human stands at 5’10’’, but we of course know that many people are shorter and many are taller.
A person that is 6’6’’ or taller is three standard deviations from that average. Are there people 6’6” and taller? Sure. But we wouldn’t expect to come upon a randomly selected group of people and have all of them stand taller than 6’6”. The test results in these flagged schools would be similar to a college dean touring his campus and finding classroom after classroom filled with the tallest people in the world. While that may be good for the college’s basketball team, it certainly would raise eyebrows as to how these tall people showed up in the same place. It wouldn’t just happen by accident, even with a good recruiting season.
The APS investigation made the error of comparing outliers to outliers in an obvious attempt to reduce the scope of the investigation. They essentially said, “We only need to take a serious look at these twelve most severe schools” – those people who were ten feet tall, while ignoring all the seven and eight-footers.
Looking at the ten-footers wasn’t a bad place to start … where they erred was in not explaining why we had a report showing that everyone in those schools was ten-feet tall and in dismissing dozens of other schools where the concerns are just as serious. It is clear that children weren’t fully responsible for the test results assigned to their names, in all cases.
Not only was the investigation in APS lacking in both scope and depth, the district’s response to the report completed by the Blue Ribbon Commission has also been unacceptable. Though they have publicly stated that over 100 educators have been referred to the Professional Standards Commission for ethics violations, the fact is that the district has knowingly sent legitimate complaints for only eight educators with allegations of wrongdoing that can be investigated by the PSC.
They have also made clear that they do not feel they have appropriate evidence at this time to refer all 108 educators recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission. They have even expressed reluctance to refer some of the twelve principals from the schools where the Blue Ribbon Commission found systemic, institutional cheating.
I want to speak for just a moment on the appropriate role of the PSC. The PSC is not an investigative agency to be used by local school systems to ferret out wrongdoing. Educators are employees of the school district, and the employer is responsible for taking action against those who have done wrong. Once those actions have been taken, the PSC then determines whether those already proven actions merit a stiffer penalty, such as revocation of a teaching certificate.
In Dougherty, 107 elementary classrooms were flagged for results beyond ten standard deviations. Going back to the height metaphor, this is like finding a random neighborhood where the average man is taller than Yao Ming, the tallest player in the NBA who stands at 7 feet, 6 inches. In eight schools, between 25 and 77 percent of classrooms were flagged for exceeding three standard deviations on wrong-to-right changes. This overwhelming statistical data was met with a report of “no wrongdoing” and “no testing violations.”
During the 2010 administration of the CRCT, scores dropped precipitously in the schools where state monitors were present in these two districts, while the state as a whole made gains.
I believe it is now morally incumbent upon you, the State Board of Education, to conduct a student-level comparison from 2009 to 2010 so that we can identify the students who were affected. This is not about stats and numbers … this is not a math exercise … this is about individual students who are being robbed of their one fair shot at a good education.
I believe all students can learn. I believe all students can make progress and you have demonstrated that across the state. But when adults circumvent the process and show achievement gains that are not earned, the student is the one that is cheated.
If the investigations stop where they stand today, these children risk being cheated yet again. Those students who need remedial help will not get it and they will continue to lack the tools and knowledge needed to be successful in the next grade. And the adults who participated in the wrongdoing and those who condoned it will remain unidentified.
That is unacceptable and we cannot stand by and allow this to happen. The oath we take upon being sworn into office is a solemn promise to the children and parents in these districts to make this right. Georgia law affords the Governor of the State with the authority to investigate in situations like this. On this basis, I am appointing a Special Investigator to do the hard work that has to be done on behalf of the children in APS and Dougherty County.
This Special Investigator will have full legal authority, including subpoena power, the ability to require sworn testimony on penalty of perjury, and other broad investigatory powers. I am hopeful and expectant that both Atlanta and Dougherty County schools will cooperate with this investigation so that the investigator appointed will not need to use the full range of powers at his disposal.
This investigation will be both thorough and swift. It is unfair to any student who has been cheated to let this linger, and it is absolutely unfair to the majority of APS and Dougherty educators who have done absolutely nothing wrong to leave these concerns looming over their systems like dark clouds.
The results of this investigation, whatever they may be, will be brought back to the Board for your consideration and further action, if necessary. If the results warrant, they will also be forwarded to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution.
… I know you all understand that most educators in this state do what they do because they love children and because they love to see them grow and learn. I want to speak straight to the honest, hardworking teachers of this state to say the actions of a few do not reflect on you or your fellow teachers. This is about seeking out a small group of people who have failed to hold up the high ideals most Georgia teachers live by.
And what has happened here has stunted the growing and learning process for thousands of children. They have been cheated by adults who made it look like they were farther along educationally than they really were. For those children, we must do everything in our power to rectify this situation.
State Board of Education members, I implore you to take every measure to fulfill our moral commitment to these children. As I said at the beginning, our education system is built on the assumption that all adults are working for the best interests of our children. But when some prove otherwise, either through action or inaction, it falls to the rest of us to make it right. Thank you for your courage and for your dedication to Georgia’s schoolchildren.
Ok, the governor is steaming. He is going to hire someone to go after APS and Dougherty and drill deep into what happened in the 2009 CRCT administration. He is going to give this person subpoena power. He is going to charge people with perjury.
But is he going to get any different results than the systems’ own investigations?
(OK, he will get a little more than Dougherty, which seemed to confine its “internal review” to a quick head count — “Anybody of y’all cheat? No? Ok, we’re done here. Pass the donuts.”)
I still wonder if we’ll ever get to the truth of who changed the answers on the 2009 CRCT answer sheets and how many cases of cheating occurred. I absolutely believe cheating went on in APS and Dougherty. And I believe we would likely find that it has gone on since it became important to the adults in the systems that their students pass.
No one is going to easily admit to cheating. And why would they when they can point to multiple hands touching those CRCT test sheets? We have already learned of many breaks in the so-called chains of command that were supposed to safeguard the transfer of the tests. In some cases, completed tests sat in schools over weekends.
Even if the Perdue investigator goes back and interviews students, how reliable are accounts recorded 18 months after the event? My own kids have taken a variety of tests since then. They would have a hard time recalling what was said to them in April of 2009.
I interviewed John Fremer, the testing expert hired by APS who’s investigated test security worldwide. “Often, you do all this work and you are very confident that you know where the problem is — you scaled it, you sized it — but you never get that confession. I would love it if that happened, but it doesn’t,” he said.
Unless the investigator threatens lie detector tests, I think most APS and Dougherty County educators will maintain that they know nothing about cheating.
A few questions the governor did not answer today that I think are important:
1. How much is the state willing to spend to investigate two systems?
2. What if the investigator cannot name names? The statistical probabilities tell us someone cheated, but we may not be able to tell who it was. What is the next step?
3. Would this money be better spent on helping the kids whose test results were altered?