The AJC investigatory team is now turning its attention to high schools, reporting today that, while not as systematic as the CRCT cheating, Atlanta broke rules — cheated on standardized tests, falsified attendance records and changed grades — to meet performance targets in some high schools. (This is a long piece, so please try to read it.)
This story suggests an answer to one of the pressing questions asked in the wake of the CRCT cheating scandal — what happened to elementary and middle school students pushed along who were not performing on grade level?
I want to point out that posters on the Get Schooled blog have cited these same scenarios at other high schools, so I don’t think these practices are limited to a single system. The AJC had a piece not long ago about Hall County shifting kids to alternative high schools to make AYP.
Have you seen any of these practices at your school?
Here is an excerpt of today’s AJC front page story on APS high schools:
After school every day, Chantel and her mother, Deirdre, logged onto test preparation websites. At Carver High School of Technology in Atlanta, where Chantel was a junior, teachers helped her get ready. They believed, Deirdre Cox said, that Chantel could pass.
But the morning of the high school writing test, in September 2009, school administrators pulled Chantel and several other Carver juniors aside. All stood a good chance of failing — and of lowering the school’s odds of meeting its do-or-die performance targets. While the rest of the 11th grade took the test required for all juniors, Chantel and the others worked puzzles in a special-education classroom.
Their absences could be excused, because the school had placed them in a grade all their own: 10 1/2.
The episode reflects the pattern of academic irregularities that emerges in a new investigation of Atlanta’s high schools by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The newspaper reviewed thousands of pages of reports from the school district’s internal investigations, along with other public records, and interviewed educators, parents and students.
The questionable activities in high schools appear to be less systemic than the cheating that has roiled Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools, where attention focused on a single exam: the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Nevertheless, the improprieties seem no less insidious: cheating on standardized tests, falsifying attendance records and changing grades, all to award undeserved diplomas that helped administrators meet performance targets.
At one Atlanta high school, failure literally was not an option; the minimum grade for all students was 70. At another, the principal allowed no more than 10 percent of seniors to fail, regardless of their grades. Another principal allegedly ordered teachers to change grades and ignore absences so students could receive diplomas. Teachers at several schools apparently obtained advance copies of state tests and gave students the actual questions during practice exams.
Such transgressions call into question the validity of the high school “transformation” that Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, touted for half a decade. The district spent millions of dollars and staked a piece of Hall’s reputation on restructuring high schools to reduce absenteeism and increase student performance.
Superintendent Erroll Davis, who took over last summer after Hall’s retirement, said Friday he has ordered audits of standardized test scores in the district’s 23 high schools and of graduation rates and grading procedures. He also is commissioning a review of the costs and benefits of the high school restructuring.
“One of the first thoughts I had when I came here was if you had discovered testing irregularities in the k-8 system, why should you assume it would automatically stop at the high school system?” Davis said in an interview. “I have no reason to believe there’s any systematic or pervasive cheating going on, although I have taken the appropriate risk-management steps to give me the assurance these things are not going on. I don’t want to leave it to good will or assumptions.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog