Brace yourselves: AJC to unveil heck of a series on test scores nationwide. Houston school chief issues response.

testing (Medium)Update: Series is now online at AJC.com

The Atlanta Journal Constitution will publish the results of a seven-month investigation of test scores nationwide in the Sunday AJC. (If you don’t get the Sunday paper, make sure to go out and buy it as this will be one of the most discussed education stories of the year.)

The story is expected to appear online today at noon at AJC.com, and I will post a summary here on the blog at that time. We will have a lot to talk about once you get a chance to see the great work my colleagues have done.

I will also do a video chat with the investigative team Tuesday, and I’ll post details of that.

As it did with Atlanta Public Schools in 2008, the newspaper’s investigative team analyzed scores nationwide, including those in Houston.

Here is a statement released by the Houston school chief who apparently felt compelled to offer a response to the AJC investigation even before the story’s publication. (The AJC interviewed school chiefs in systems that are discussed in the story so they are aware of the findings.)

Dear HISD Community:

I am writing to let you know in advance about an article that we expect to appear in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper on Sunday that analyzes test scores from school districts across America. The story comes nearly a year after a major cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools. This national exam score analysis was done in an effort to identify schools in which student test performance increased or decreased significantly from one year to the next. The newspaper interprets such shifts in performance as signs of possible cheating.

We have been alerted that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s analysis has identified such test score spikes at campuses across America, including some in the Houston Independent School District.

I want you to know that HISD takes these allegations seriously and does not tolerate cheating. We believe that adults who participate in cheating are robbing their students of the quality education they deserve. I also want you to know that I believe in the integrity of the overwhelming majority of educators working in Houston schools.

Now, I don’t know everything that happened in Atlanta. But I can tell you that in 2010 and 2011, HISD hired outside law firms to conduct aggressive investigations of possible cheating at 22 schools. These investigations resulted in nine confirmed cheating cases. Twenty-one HISD teachers were recommended for termination, did not have their contracts renewed, or decided to resign or retire as a result of these investigations. We currently have five ongoing cheating investigations.

Our testing security measures are comprehensive. Our teachers are not permitted to administer state exams to their own students. On test days, we send monitors to each campus to personally ensure that proper testing protocols are being followed. We have a telephone hotline for people to anonymously offer tips of possible cheating. On each campus, only two people have keys with access to testing material storage rooms, most of which are monitored by video camera.

Again, HISD swiftly and thoroughly investigates allegations of testing impropriety. We will continue to recommend termination for any employee found to have participated in cheating. I have great faith in the vast majority of our 12,000-plus teachers and administrators, and I am certain they support our efforts to protect the integrity of our children’s education.

Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

51 comments Add your comment

I'll be sure to buy the Sunday AJC

March 24th, 2012
7:52 am

I applaud the AJC for being our government watchdog. We need the media to perform this very important work — to ensure our government is honest by investigating it.
I suspect that the AJC will report there is rampant cheating nationwide and I also suspect teachers on this blog will blame all the cheating on high-stakes tests but I hope there will be more to it than that. I hope the AJC will investigate the lack of morals and ethics in the school system from the bottom, the teachers, all the way to the top of the state and federal governments.
GM

retired teacher

March 24th, 2012
8:20 am

wow I’m impressed with the AJC….I’ll be buying the paper tomorrow also.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2012
8:23 am

Do they sell the print edition in Southeast Georgia? Even if they do, there’s probably not one within 30 miles of here…grumble, grumble.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2012
8:24 am

Awaiting moderation? Really??

Chaos

March 24th, 2012
8:43 am

GM, your continued willingness, maybe even giddiness, to constantly berate teachers has grown very old. Phrases like “teachers on this blog will blame all cheating…” and “lack of morals and ethics…” illustrate your great contempt for teachers.

The cheating is unacceptable. It was done by a few teachers in our state. The vast majority get out of bed every day and work very hard to make a difference in children’s lives. The vast majority don’t cheat or condone it.

Maureen Downey

March 24th, 2012
8:44 am

@Science, Because of the nature of some of the comments on the Alpharetta student president blog, I put comments on moderation. I can’t opt for only moderation on one entry; it is all or nothing, which is why you are ending up in moderation. I plan to revert back later today.
Maureen

Fled

March 24th, 2012
8:50 am

“Ed.D.”: three little initials that speak volumes.

Go get ‘em, AJC!

Mikey D

March 24th, 2012
9:59 am

@Chaos
Please just ignore “GM”… He/She is a professional troll and unworthy of responding to…

A Conservative Voice

March 24th, 2012
10:03 am

Me thinks you people are doing a whole lot of talking about things that none of us understand because it done by crooks (and they are crooks, mind you) that are hell bent on doing something nefarious that will benefit only a small percentage of the population. The children are not being helped, even the innocent teachers who had nothing to do with the cheating scandal are being victimized and put in a bad light. I just don’t know what you hope to accomplish with all your back and forth banter, criticizing one another, calling others names…….I mean, what’s the big picture? these things have been with us for a while and I don’t see any of the issues going away. Are you people just gonna talk about ‘em or are you gonna take action……are you gonna organize, march to Washington and demand change or are you just gonna watch BHO, Arnie and Eric Holder run roughshod over all things we hold dear. Nothing’s gonna happen or get better “unless you do something” :) Folks, if we don’t wake up quickly, all of our freedoms will disappear.

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:07 am

Although I don’t condone cheating, I think that NCLB left a lot of schools in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation”. Correct me if I am wrong, but did not NCLB say that if you did not make adequate yearly progress, that the staff of the school could be changed? (i.e. you get fired) So you could either get fired for cheating or get fired for not being able to change the things in the lives of the students over which you have no control.

Most of the blame for failing students lies with the STUDENTS and the PARENTS, and a small part lies with the teachers. Yet, NCLB never addressed thee issues.

What NCLB should have done was investigate the REASON for poor student performance (could it be that the student was not in school 25% of the time?) and address those issues. But that would cost money, so it would not get done.

Lee

March 24th, 2012
10:16 am

Maybe the AJC could go one extra step and compare those schools/districts with high probability of cheating to the demographics. Anyone want to wager on the racial demographics of cheating schools?

I didn’t think so…

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:18 am

And to counter Good Mother’s argument before she makes it that parents don’t matter in education, let me give an example:

My wife and I were reading to our children at very early ages (1+). They went to pre-K 3, pre-K 4, kindergarten, before they entered first grade. They were on computers at age 3. They could all read before entering school. They had computer games such as Reader Rabbit, Math Rabbit, to play and reinforce learning when they got home. We sat down with our children when they came home and helped with homework and MADE them do their homework before they could go play. Our children are all graduated from high school and college with high grades. ( I guess you got the idea that my wife and I are married and both present in the lives of our children)

Compare that to a single mother in southeast Atlanta who is a high school dropout herself, perhaps working three jobs and is not present or too tired to help with homework. Or she may be a drug addict or just doesn’t care enough to help her kids. Her children live in a neighborhood where learning is looked down upon, even sneered at. Her kids miss school at every opportunity and she does nothing – maybe her children miss school to take care of a sibling who is sick and she can’t afford to take off work and has no family support system.

Do you believe that the SCHOOL SYSTEM in the second example can make up for all those PARENT AND STUDENT issues? You are kidding yourself.

Maureen Downey

March 24th, 2012
10:19 am

@Lee, I talked to the reporters about the common link. It is poverty above all else.
Maureen

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:20 am

Personally, if we are going to fire the cheating teachers, we should also put in jail all the parents who have truant kids.

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:22 am

Lee, as Maureen points out it is poor neighborhoods. Not necessarily black neighborhoods, but poor and black often go together. In other words, it is not race but social demographics.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2012
10:27 am

@Maureen, just so I’m not singled out! :-)

@mountain man, thank you for pointing out some of the issues the families of “at-risk” students have, even when the parent or parents are trying very hard to “do the right thing.” My students have parents who work 2nd shift so they won’t have to go on welfare, or who are deployed serving our country and who aren’t always there to help the students – and those students have a lot of responsibilities that students in 2 parent households in the suburbs of Atlanta do not have.

William Casey

March 24th, 2012
10:28 am

I am looking forward to the series. I’m a retired teacher who took student cheating very seriously. I always wanted to know what my students REALLY knew and understood. Just ask anyone who was at Chattahoochee HS in the 90’s. You can imagine my dismay at the revelation of widespread cheating by teachers and administrators. There is NO EXCUSE or justification for it! However, there are REASONS why it happened. Hopefully, the upcoming series will illuminate these and help educators avoid the mistakes of the past.

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:29 am

People are constantly saying how the cheating teachers “ruined” the lives of their students. I don’t believe that. The students were actually failing before and will be actually failing now. Just giving them accurate tet won’t change anything. Their “special help” is worthless.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2012
10:33 am

And I still submit that the biggest cheating scandal in our state is the lowering of standards by the state DOE so that students who are well below grade level show up as “meeting expectations” on the CRCTs and EOCTs.

The parents think the students are doing okay, the students think they’re doing okay, and even some of the teachers think the students are doing okay.

And when the kids who are just barely close to grade level “exceed expectations” everyone thinks they are budding rocket scientists — until they get to college and can’t do the work.

mountain man

March 24th, 2012
10:33 am

We also need to have testing at the BEGINNING of the school year. The teachers would have a vested interest in that test being accurate, since it is not measuring THEIR performance, but that of previous teachers. Any child that fails will then be sent BACK to the previous grade to be brought up to standards.

(alas, it will never happen because “social promotion” is too ingrained in our system)

Shar

March 24th, 2012
10:41 am

As the report has not yet been released, it seems premature to guess its contents. But kudos to the AJC for investing in this seven month investigation on top of the year of investigation that unearthed the cheating in Georgia. This is expensive, time-consuming, data-crunching work that school systems from the local to the national level hope is too boring and intensive for any stakeholders to take on. If in fact the results are sufficiently threatening to the status quo (and all those billions of dollars that local systems spend on those teachers, administrators, contractors, curricular materials and all the other people with their hands deep into the taxpayers’ pockets) that the superintendent of the HISD feels the need to jump out in front of the findings, the AJC team has produced work that could, hopefully, end up benefitting literally millions of students across the country.

Congratulations and thank you so very much!

Brandy

March 24th, 2012
10:49 am

As a teacher whose first PD Day in Baltimore included a training session that taught us to make “visual” mathematics vocabulary bulletin boards in our classrooms so students could look at them prior to and during the test–even those who did not teach mathematics (like me!)–I’m not surprised. And before you critique me, over 30 fellow teachers were in the same room with me and I still have the session notes because I found the content so appalling. I didn’t follow this sage advice (duh), but it does happen. The biggest problems, though, are the administrators and policy makers who come up with this muck (or buy it), not necessarily the teachers forced to follow it. Of course, overwhelmingly it is the teachers who will be sent to the chopping block, not the administrators and policy makers.

Brandy

March 24th, 2012
10:53 am

@Maureen, When will we see an investigation into cheating on the Georgia HS Graduation Test in APS and Doughtery (sp?). If they cheated on CRCT, what’s to say they did do the same on the Grad Test?

Brandy

March 24th, 2012
10:56 am

Oops, meant to say HS Graduation Test AND EOCTs.

Brandy

March 24th, 2012
10:57 am

and “what’s to say they didn’t do the same on the Grad Test?

sheesh, I can’t type this morning.

Digger

March 24th, 2012
11:00 am

The AJC is going for the Jugular and the Pulitzer at the same time. Beware of Pandora’s Box!

Prof

March 24th, 2012
11:28 am

@ Digger. But according to the Greek myth, at the very bottom of Pandora’s Box was Hope………

Jamie Hollin

March 24th, 2012
11:37 am

Metro Nashville Public Scools offered up their own response in advance of publication. It’s available here http://bit.ly/GLX5Cz

Jamie Hollin

March 24th, 2012
11:46 am

This link works for now: http://t.co/Iz2jjs22

[...] With the AJC series on national test score disparities minutes away from publication, a second  district with implicated  schools has chosen to issue an preemptive strike. Houston released a statement Friday. [...]

[...] In Houston, for instance, test results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year, the analysis shows. When children moved to a new grade the next year, their scores plummeted — a finding that suggests the gains were not due to learning. {See response from Houston school chief here.} [...]

cricket

March 24th, 2012
11:58 am

About a year or so before I quit teaching, I had a second grade boy who lived with his grandmother because his drug addicted mother was in jail. One day, after morning announcements by an administrator who had just recited his daily admonishments and warnings relating to the days left until the CRCT and the urgency he wanted to see in the instructional practices of the teachers as he checked in on classrooms that day, this dear precious child interrupted and thoughtfully asked, “Is the CRCT test all that counts to the principal? I wish he would let us just learn about stuff all the time.”

His question that day still brings tears to my eyes. What teachers are forced to put these precious children through for the sake of test scores borders on child abuse. I had to quit because I just couldn’t make myself do that to them anymore.

cricket

March 24th, 2012
12:21 pm

All this BS about testing, cheating and statistics misses the whole point and is about the adults not the children. When will this all stop?

Beverly Fraud

March 24th, 2012
1:03 pm

“We expect outliers every year” Remember who said that?

Maybe what we should expect is OUT and OUT LIARS, not “outliers”

catlady

March 24th, 2012
2:38 pm

Scienceteach671: I can get the paper up here, but they charge $4 plus tax! BTW, I agree with you completely about the sorry nature of the CRCT, and the state DOE’s complicity in it!

Ultimately, the problem rests with those who decided that we would have no students scoring below grade level–a virtual impossibility as we include all but the most profoundly handicapped students. So, we have “attacked” that problem several ways. First, administering a test which does not accurately portray student preparation, second, administering it in a way that makes possible cheating, third, rewarding impossible “improvements”. Maybe we should declare everyone winners and go home.

Beverly: that’s an old joke. I believe in the 1930’s, someone referred to Kansas as the outlying area of Texas, at which some Kansan said, “Brother, NO ONE can out-lie Texans!”

Lee

March 24th, 2012
3:38 pm

Since the politically correct AJC doesn’t want to talk about this, I will. The demographics of the school systems listed:

Baltimore 8% white
Detroit 2% white
Houston 6% white
Dallas 5% white
E St Louis 1% white
Gary Ind 1% white
Los Angeles 10% white
Mobile County Al 33% white

If there were no racial aspect to this, then surely there would be a majority white school district caught up in AJC’s data analysis.

Right?

Bueller???

Digger

March 24th, 2012
4:15 pm

Cricket…cricket…

concerned

March 24th, 2012
5:24 pm

To Mountain Man, concerning the test at the beginning of the year and comparing it- what do you do with a fluid school population. I know one one lady who has been in three school districts in this year alone and was in two different states last year. The tests themselves are poorly written, the students are not invested in the outcome and are a complete waste of money. The crazy math issues were even worse when the test for the new math didn’t actually align with the objectives for the accelerated path the first time the tests were given.
Poor quality testing is still a problem even if the cheating is nipped in the bud.
Does it makes sense for the districts to spend so much money in getting these tests given and evaluated and validated when the tests themselves are such poor quality?

Steven

March 24th, 2012
5:36 pm

There’s a lot of race-baiting going on in these comments.

Look at all of the data. In my home state of Michigan, Detroit classrooms were flagged, but so were the rich white school districts of Northville, Troy and Grosse Pointe, and at comparable percentages.

The big cities and big school districts are going to be the ones that grab the headlines, but do some research before you come to conclusions.

ScienceTeacher671

March 24th, 2012
9:08 pm

Catlady, I’m wondering how many of these schools with huge improvements are “90-90-90″ schools?

(Can you tell what we’ve been learning about during our “Professional Learning” days? And what I wouldn’t give to have one or two “Planning Days” that weren’t Saturdays or Sundays….)

Ron F.

March 25th, 2012
12:35 am

I suspect that the AJC will report there is rampant cheating nationwide and I also suspect teachers on this blog will blame all the cheating on high-stakes tests but I hope there will be more to it than that.

GM- Trust me, something like this will bring out a lot more than just that. Although surely you realize, after following this blog, that if that many teachers are pointing it out, maybe there’s something to the idea that the testing itself is flawed? You’d have to be in a school to understand. The scores are used to “motivate” us from preplanning days right up until test day. It’s a scare tactic used to remind us of the ultimate goal. No matter what we do, the only measure of it is a test that we’re not allowed to know what it’s actually testing. What sense does it make to give a kid a test you’ve never seen? The content shifts each year as one test can’t possibly cover it all, so there’s no way to know exactly what will be on it and in what concentration. It’s like throwing darts blindfolded after a few pitchers of your favorite brand.

While I don’t condone cheating, period, I understand the pressure teachers are under. And I can’t imagine being in a high poverty school where you know you have a large percentage of kids learning, but still behind their age level peers. It has to be very disheartening when you’ve worked all year and seen growth in so many who will likely still not pass a standardized test. I see those kids every day and can quote the numbers to show their growth, but sadly they’ll probably never be on the same level as their “successful” test-taking peers.

[...] to community members friday, Houston Independent School District schools chief Terry Grier acknowledged AJC’s flagging of several schools in the district for improbable fluctuations in test scores. Grier notes that HISD had hired outside law firms to [...]

AJC is NOT Credible

March 25th, 2012
6:00 pm

The data is not credible…watch this box explode…Pandora’s Box…

Maureen Downey

March 25th, 2012
6:11 pm

@AJC is Not: Not sure of your point given that critics said the same thing about the data the AJC produced about APS back in 2008. Then, the expert that APS hired to disprove the AJC came back and said he could not. What the AJC did was sound.
But the real confirmation came from the state of Georgia’s own follow-up — the statewide audit. The very schools that the AJC highlighted for improbable test score swings in 2008 were also the ones with the highest wrong to right erasures and several were the ones where educators confessed to blatant cheating.
You are not understanding why schools are flagged. The reason why so many schools were flagged in 2010 was because of the monitoring that you site. It’s when the scores fell so dramatically from the prior year because of the intense monitoring following the initial revelations of cheating.
Maureen

LaMont

March 25th, 2012
9:45 pm

Congrats AJC…this is what I call investigative reporting. I hope all of your readers post links to this story to Facebook, Twitter to ensure as many parents as possible around the country are at least informed. Critical thinking and asking questions. Moving information from the “I don’t know, I don’t know” category to the “I know I don’t know” and finally to the “I know” category is what good journalism is all about. Bravo AJC. Bravo.

bu2

March 26th, 2012
9:05 am

I wonder if this series was suggested (and partly funded) by the same Chamber of Commerce types who were covering up cheating in Atlanta. Atlanta was on a scale far beyond anyone else, with intimidation and complicity at the very top of the school district, on the school board and in the business community.

@ CatLady and ScienceTeacher

March 26th, 2012
11:59 am

Agree with you about GA DOE and how they are complicit with the dumbing down of CRCT test scores. I’ve also spoken to them several times about how this New-New Math is a travesty that needed to be condemned. What did they do about it? They just shuffled the deck and are in the process of renaming courses. Some of us out here actually have a little math knowledge and can’t be fooled so easily. I would call it a “joke” if I thought it was funny.

And if that is not enough in the dumbing down of the students, my own county is considering getting rid of D’s in the higher grades. Noodle that over for a couple minutes. I think you’ll be able to figure out why all on your own. And because they just can’t mess with only SOME of the students, they have to mess with ALL of them… there is a rumor that the county is still considering taking Standards Based Grading from just K-3 to the higher grades, maybe even HS. You want to talk “massaging” the progress information to parents? Just imagine a child earning a D or F (percentage wise), but the SBG shows a “2″ (making progress). What bunk!

Just the Facts

March 26th, 2012
8:04 pm

“Lee, as Maureen points out it is poor neighborhoods. Not necessarily black neighborhoods, but poor and black often go together. In other words, it is not race but social demographics.”

The cheaters were poor? It is about the teachers and administrators…not the students.

bu2

March 26th, 2012
9:01 pm

@Maureen
Looking at Houston, the %s make it look like several surrounding districts were worse, but the map and article flag it is as the one in a trillion. Your data shows North Forest much worse and Aldine and perhaps Cypress-Fairbanks worse as well.

bu2

March 26th, 2012
9:05 pm

Maureen-FYI, North Forest is a very poor African-American school district that is in the process of being shut down and absorbed into the Houston ISD. Aldine is a mostly poor Hispanic district. Cypress-Fairbanks is a diverse mostly middle class suburban district.