Update: I added the statement of Georgia school superintendent John Barge at 3:30.
Sit back and get ready to read another searing report on a Georgia school system gone bad. The state report on cheating in Dougherty County schools is online, and it is not pretty. Investigators secured confessions about cheating that was blatant and systematic.
And as with APS, investigators concluded that the district superintendent, Sally Whatley, and her senior staff should have known cheating was occurring. “In that duty, they failed,” the report states.
Here is what investigators said about New Jackson Heights Elementary in the report: Cheating was a way of life at this school. On unit tests, for example, teachers would mark the correct answers, and then return the marked-up tests to the students. The teachers would do this so that the students would see which answers were wrong and make corrections.
State school chief John Barge was quick to issue a statement:
Today’s report on cheating by some educators in the Dougherty County School System is another sad case of adults putting personal interests above those of their students. I am especially disappointed in education leaders who would threaten teachers’ jobs if students did not perform well on the CRCT. While this behavior is inexcusable, it does highlight the need to look at a different, more thorough accountability system such as Georgia’s new College and Career Ready Performance Index, which we have already submitted in the form of a waiver to the U.S. Dept. of Education seeking relief from the narrowly defined designation of success found in No Child Left Behind. Relying on a single test to determine a student’s and a school’s academic success is plagued with problems.
The Georgia Department of Education will work closely with the Dougherty County School System to provide support for students who were negatively impacted by the actions of adults. We will also look into whether or not any schools and educators undeservedly received financial reward for these artificial CRCT results.”
As was the case with the Atlanta Public Schools investigation findings, the vast majority of the educators in Dougherty County and throughout the state are ethically sound and work diligently with the best interests of their students in mind. I’m committed to working with our districts to ensure our students are not robbed of a quality and meaningful education.
The disgraceful situation we found in the Dougherty County School System (DCSS) is a tragedy, sadly illustrated by a comment made by a teacher who said that her fifth grade students could not read, yet did well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).
This incredible statement from a teacher in a school where the principal flatly refused to cooperate with our investigation is indicative of what we found in many of the schools we visited.
To our amazement, this top-level administrator would not even answer questions about how she mishandled her duties as the person who is most responsible, at that school, for overseeing all testing activity.
Another school principal, whose salary was over $90,000 per year, allowed her family to falsely claim that they were eligible for a federally-funded free lunch each school day, even though official guidelines required the annual income to be no more than $24,089.
Yet another principal, with regard to our interviews, told a teacher: “Don’t you tell them anything, you hear?”
Notwithstanding these examples of misconduct, there are skilled, dedicated and well-meaning educators in this school system. But their work is often overshadowed by an acceptance of wrongdoing and a pattern of incompetence that is a blight on the community that will feel its effects for generations to come. This is the Dougherty County School System.
Hundreds of school children were harmed by extensive cheating in the Dougherty County School System. In 11 schools, 18 educators admitted to cheating. We found cheating on the 2009 CRCT in all of the schools we examined. A total of 49 educators were involved in some form of misconduct or failure to perform their duty with regard to this test.
While we did not find that Superintendent Sally Whatley or her senior staff knew that crimes or other misconduct were occurring, they should have known and were ultimately responsible for accurately testing and assessing students in this system. In that duty, they failed. The 2009 erasure analysis, and other evidence, suggests that there were far more educators involved in cheating, but a fair analysis of the facts did not allow us to sufficiently establish the identity of every participant.
The statistics, and the individual student data, leave little room for any other reasonable explanation, save for cheating. For example, the percentage of flagged classrooms for DCSS is ten times higher than the state average.
Unlike our investigation of criminal misconduct in the Atlanta Public Schools, officials with Dougherty County Schools (and their agents) provided, in a timely and professional manner, access to all personnel and needed documents.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog