Good cop, bad cop and the Georgia testing scandal

State school board member Linda Zechmann and Superintendent Kathy Cox during a briefing on the CRCT scandal. Elissa Eubanks/AJC

State school board member Linda Zechmann and Superintendent Kathy Cox during a briefing on the CRCT scandal. Elissa Eubanks/AJC

The two most important people in Georgia education played good cop, bad cop last week.

The evidence, circumstantial but worrying, indicates that many of the standardized tests measuring student achievement in the state’s schools have been doctored. Nearly 70 percent of the elementary and middle schools in the city of Atlanta — and the adults who run them — have passed under a cloud.

“To misinterpret this, to accuse people of cheating, that’s not going on here,” said state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox. “In these particular schools, we want to go in and take a closer look.”

Gov. Sonny Perdue at a Friday press conference/AP

Gov. Sonny Perdue at a Friday press conference. Associated Press

Gov. Sonny Perdue, on the other hand, was ready to wield his terrible swift sword. “It’s shameful. I’m disheartened,” he said. “We’re sending the signal that … we will tolerate no less than absolute fairness, absolute honesty and absolute transparency.”

Perdue himself briefed reporters on the findings of the investigation conducted by his Office of Student Achievement. Cox was not in the room.

No one has argued that cheaters should prosper, or even keep their jobs. But it is worth noting that Cox and Perdue have entirely different agendas when it comes to a scandal that’s certain to reach into the race for governor.

Cox is seeking a third term as school superintendent — a contest that could well be determined by whether teachers think she’s too quick to pass judgment on them.

Perdue, of course, won’t be on the ballot. But for the past several months, the governor has been pursuing a one-time $400 million federal stimulus grant — dubbed “Race to the Top” by the Obama administration. Forty-one states are competing for a total of $4 billion.

Lord knows we could use the money.

Points are awarded for innovation and reform in education, including efforts to link student performance to teacher pay.

This year’s education initiatives from Perdue are built around winning the “Race to the Top.” Last month, the governor proposed a shift away from teacher pay scales based on seniority or advanced degrees.

Tests will be a crucial measure — if they are reliable. Which could explain Perdue’s eagerness for Georgia to be seen as an aggressive self-enforcer in the testing scandal.

One of the governor’s House floor leaders has already introduced a pair of bills that would criminalize cheating by school officials on standardized tests. Offending teachers or administrators currently face civil sanction by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

HB 1111 and HB 1121 would add the label of criminal misdemeanor. Punishment would include a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail — plus the loss of pension. Perdue has expressed his support.

“He’s going to be the sheriff, I guess,” said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the 80,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Callahan, too, said he has no sympathy for cheaters. He called some of the allegations “jaw-dropping.”

“No. 1, let’s wait till we have all the facts. I certainly agree that it doesn’t look very good, but let’s look at all the facts,” he said.

But the PAGE leader also wondered out loud whether Georgia — and for that matter, much of the rest of the nation — has created its own moral basket case.

“The careers of administrators, the scarlet letter for schools, whether a child will move forward or not, whether a teacher will get a good evaluation — or perhaps, soon, a pay raise — to put all that weight on the rather slim reed of a single test on a single day makes no sense,” Callahan said.

The governor has said that classroom teachers have his back when it comes to his reforms. But Callahan says the educators he talks to exhibit a growing sense of paranoia — that could play out at the polls.

Cox may be right to worry about a teacher backlash from the testing scandal. But the real impact could come in the Democratic contest for governor, where teachers and their family of voters have a history of making a difference.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes lost his 2002 re-election bid in part because he tampered with teacher dismissal rules. Perdue accused him of blaming teachers for the state’s education woes.

Barnes has spent much of the past year trying to win back educators. He has declared himself still a big fan of performance bonuses for teachers — and accountability.

But the former governor drew a line at criminal charges, which he termed “grandstanding.”

“As far as dealing with any alleged wrongdoing by educators, we should all obey the law — and there are already plenty of tools to deal with those issues,” Barnes said.

The man trying the hardest to sour any rapprochement between Barnes and teachers is DuBose Porter of Dublin, the House minority leader and one of four other Democratic candidates for governor.

He, too, said he opposes any effort to make criminals of educators who fudge test scores — drumming them out of schools is punishment enough. Porter used a phrase from 2002 that Perdue would find very familiar.

“This is again blaming the teachers for the problems,” he said.

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25 comments Add your comment

OTP

February 13th, 2010
3:08 pm

And why should this not be a criminal offense? It is simple falsifying results to gain an economic advantage…….

Kathy the voters are watching

February 13th, 2010
6:30 pm

Kathy Cox when you try to protect your self proclaimed “good friend” Beverly Hall when the evidence is overwhelming, you better believe that voters will be questioning your personal integrity as well.

d

February 13th, 2010
7:06 pm

Sonny is doing little but setting us up for more cheating. He is putting in place the incentive for otherwise honest people to do dishonest things. I am not condoning cheating, but if we are linking not only pay but a person’s livelihood to what is really little more than a Polaroid, what does he honestly expect to happen. BTW, contrary to what Sonny claims, RTTT does NOT require merit pay.

Ole Guy

February 13th, 2010
10:57 pm

When I was a kid, my mother had to deal with the usual intersbling rivalry issue. Upon hearing the squabbling over whatever hot-button topics were being “discussed”, she would, upon entering the room…the “battle zone”…simply start swingin. You see, she was not concerned in justice among kids…she was not concerned in listening to each side of the arguement, which was sure to be justified with high levels of bias-saturated justifications. Her interest was simple: GET ALONG OR GET OUT.

Now, of course, her idea of GET OUT was go outside and play. In the case of all the parties concerned in this testing scandal, Mom’s ideals couldn’t be better applied. We’ve got a bunch of adults here who, for many years, have been rather well-paid to “watch the helm”, to steer the ship through stormy seas. In two words, THEY FAILED. in three words, THEY MUST GO…four words, THEY MUST ALL GO. They have demonstrated, not unlike a bunch of self-serving kids, that they 1) can’t be trusted at the helm, and 2) can’t get along. In one word…OUT!

Baker

February 14th, 2010
3:02 am

All these schools were doing this independently? No one knew on a higher level knew anything about it? The numbers just seem too fishy.

Jerry Mullins

February 14th, 2010
8:17 am

It doesn’t matter whether Georgia’s schools cheat or not, they’re still the worst in the nation. I know kids who’ve flunked out of high schools in Tennessee and Kentucky, and come down to Georgia and actually graduate early!

producer

February 14th, 2010
8:19 am

To all of our stellar school kids who are too stupid to pass the tests, “Yes, I will have fries with that…” LOL!

Marcia

February 14th, 2010
11:28 am

We need someone that can reform Georgia’s education.

That person is Roger Hines.
http://www.viddler.com/explore/magnumpr/videos/25/

school board member

February 14th, 2010
11:55 am

Cheating for financial gain should be punished. I am a supporter of Debose but he is dead wrong on this one. I would have thought a newsman would realize that. Would he keep a plagiarist on his news staff.

Teacher's Hubby

February 14th, 2010
11:59 am

I agree that all should be held accountable. However, why do we now expect our teachers to do more than teach–we expect them to be counselors; parents; babysitters; some cases, responsible for getting kids to school and dropping them off; clothing kids and feeding them; getting them in the bed at night and up on time in the morning… Do you see where this is going–its the only profession where doing your job is NEVER enough–you have to be EVERYBODY and get judged by EVERYBODY–even the sorry a** parents that don’t even partner with the teacher to develop their child. Pay for Performance and Test Scores!!! CRAP…unless you let the teachers pick their own kids (guess you better be a good friend of the Principal–see where this is going…)

A Realist

February 14th, 2010
1:15 pm

The APS Superintendent is fighting for her professional life……my opinion is that the whole affair will be whitewashed because the majority of the teachers, principals and students involved are not. Be that as it may, the APS System should be taken over by the State of Georgia because folks, when the tests are strictly monitored the results are gonna be so bad that that APS will certainly be de-certified.

John Konop

February 14th, 2010
1:41 pm

The debate is not about cheating it is only how widespread. Kathy Cox demonstrates why she is over her head and is clueless about math! It would be very hard to find anyone who understands statistics and research methods that would not tell you that this is obvious cheating!

It is time, we demand Kathy Cox to stop covering up her failed curriculum! The signs of this problem were out there with failure rates in the new math,Kathy Cox handing waivers out like pizza coupons, refusing to release the PSAT scores, lying about using Massachusetts math curriculum……

We need new leadership ASAP! We need people with integrity starting from the top, not sell–outs like Kathy Cox who report to the lobbyist money changers in Washington over students, parents and teachers!

John Konop

February 14th, 2010
1:42 pm

CRCT and Kathy Cox Scandal

The Problem:

1) The problem is we have set up a one size fit all system that was not designed toward aptitude. If the only way I could graduate school was based on my mechanical skills I would be a failure.

2) Teaching to a multiple choice test does not mean you are most qualified in that area. If I follow NCLB/DOE logic when hiring people I should have the candidate take a multiple choice test and not even interview them. As I said in the real world we look at an acceptable standard not the highest score and we use many factors mostly skill sets and experience!

3) A more logical system would look at graduation with skills and placement onto higher education in schools after graduation.

FACT:

….A 2006 survey by Collegegrad.com found that only 6% of employers think that a job candidates GPA is the most important piece of information about an individual. The survey found that the interview and work experience were ranked higher than GPA when determining an applicant’s aptitude…..

CRCT cheating details revealed

….On a late June day two years ago, two DeKalb County school administrators panicked…..

July 9th 2009

…..Superintendent Kathy Cox emphasized that the overwhelming majority of schools administer state tests honestly and in full compliance with state and federal law.

“The vast majority of educators are highly ethical and deeply concerned with following the rules,” she said. “While any cheating is cause for concern, I am confident it is not a widespread issue and that we have a valid, trustworthy testing program in Georgia.”…..

And Now

….State officials announced Wednesday that 191 schools — 10 percent of Georgia’s public elementary and middle schools — will be investigated for possible cheating on state tests. It was the second time in as many years that the state’s testing program has come under fire. …..

This is not an excuse for what happen, but if the person in charge sets up the system wrong than they most take responsibility. A one track system driven by test scores driving everything will create a dysfunctional system.

Let Sonny know

February 14th, 2010
2:34 pm

Sonny may have a lot of things wrong, but he’s got this one nailed dead to rights. Let him know that. Let him know that if Kathy Cox doesn’t have the guts to expose the house of cards, you are counting on Sonny to do so.

Let Sonny know you support him on this issue.

John Konop

February 14th, 2010
2:44 pm

Are drastic swings in CRCT scores valid?

When Kathy Cox was confronted with the cheating issue even after two principals were arrested read her comments!

….The AJC examined scores on state reading, math and language arts tests for students in grades 3 through 5. The newspaper compared students’ scores from 2008 with how they did in spring 2009.
The state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests are Georgia’s main measure of academic ability through eighth grade. The Atlanta elementary schools in question include one that state Superintendent Kathy Cox praised effusively in May as a hardworking school with an “absolutely no-excuses attitude.”

“By the way, they’re knocking the socks off of the test scores,” Cox said of Peyton Forest Elementary at a state Board of Education meeting. “They’re just a shining star.” …..

http://www.ajc.com/news/are-drastic-swings-in-165974.html

Logic

February 14th, 2010
3:54 pm

Why shouldn’t teachers be charged criminally when they alter documents?
In additon, the principal and others receive pay raises as a results of these test…of course, there should be severe punishment for cheaters!

Peaches

February 14th, 2010
4:24 pm

Blaming the test for the cheaters is like blaming the bank for the robbery.

Therre are teachers and administrators all over this state and this country who did not cheat. If we find that there are cheaters, they need to face the full weight of the consequences. To do otherwise demans all of those who played by the rules.

Moreover, as a high stakes test, it would be reasonable to take extra precautions to prevent cheating. This responsibility falls squarely on the administrators.

JO Mattern

February 14th, 2010
4:52 pm

I am surprised that the investigation does not cover erasures in the other direction – right answers changed to wrong. That is what I experienced at Brockett Elementary.

My children attended Brockett Elementary in Tucker during the 1980s. In September 1991 I removed them from the school system. They were involved in many outside activities that had nothing to do with the school system so I could see what their capabilities were. They were outstanding away from the school.

I passed the CPA exam in the early 1980s. I worked as a senior auditor at First Atlanta (now Wachovia). I was a PTA officer at Brockett Elementary for four years, two of those as the Treasurer. I found that the school supply store was running a loss of about a thousand dollars every year. I immediately installed a physical inventory system and the losses stopped. Retaliation set in.

Some parents approached me about quiet conversations the principal had initiated with them. He told them that it was in their best interest to move out of the system. They did.

I am from the Midwest so the culture here was quite foreign.

Some historical background on the foreign culture:
The Dekalb County School System had been under court supervision since 1969.
On December 16, 1989, Judge Robert Vance of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was killed by a mail bomb at his home in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson was killed by a similar mail bomb at his Savannah office. Two other mail bombs were defused; one at the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in downtown Atlanta and another at a Jacksonville NAACP office. An intense and secret investigation of any one, including parents, connected to the Dekalb County School System followed.
Two excellent books on this topic are:
Priority Mail : the investigation and trial of a mail bomber obsessed with destroying our justice system by WSB reporter Mark Winne
Blind Vengeance : the Roy Moody mail bomb murders by Ray Jenkins

Of more recent vintage the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in Michael Bryant v. CEO DeKalb County on July 31, 2009, Case Number 06-16591 which can be found on the Court’s website. Here is an excerpt: “Although we are careful not to gild the lily, Kelley has introduced shocking evidence of an overt and unabashed pattern of discrimination.”

About six months after I took our children out of Brockett Elementary my next door neighbor’s son stopped going to work. One night while I was walking up our driveway I noticed a bank of surveillance monitors in a room of their house. I will leave the ensuing horror to your imaginations. However, you might ask how many of your tax dollars have been spent to terrify my family.

As an auditor I would recommend that standardized tests be administered by independent agencies. Educators have a blatant and outrageous conflict of interest particularly when money is attached to the outcome of those tests. Secondly, I would recommend that any investigation of test irregularities include right answers changed to wrong.

Mid-South Philosopher

February 14th, 2010
5:58 pm

I have often wondered, if high staked standardized testing (i.e., the CRCT in Georgia) is so important, why doesn’t “Sonny” and “Kathy” send in a cadre of State Department of Education “bureaucrats” to administer the tests in every school. Keep the local teachers and administrators totally out of the loop when it comes to the testing experience.

You say…there are not enough State Department of Education employees to do the job.

Then let the State Department of Education recruit volunteers from the business community…you know…those geniuses who have all the answers to the problems of education. Those folks could learn the testing procedures in 10 to 15 minutes.

Another “reasonable” source of test proctors would be students from the undergraduate schools of education around the state.

But, wait, those kind of ideas require “creative thinking.” We are talking about “Sonny” and “Kathy”, here. My bad!

Lex

February 14th, 2010
6:04 pm

Stay the Course…

Michael Riley

February 14th, 2010
6:23 pm

Anyone not running for governor or the one’s involved in the cheating are the only people who think that cheating on these tests should not be a criminal offense. Why are metro Atlanta schools so glaring in this review? Answer as honestly as you can!

Keith

February 14th, 2010
8:34 pm

SO FUNNY how most of the cheating with the tests were city of Atlanta schools. Can black people do ANYTHING right?

woodshed guy

February 15th, 2010
8:37 am

HoooooRaaaay for old guy! You said it brother. We need a brand new set of crooks with new ways to steal from the people. Same old same old isgetting old.

Marcia

February 15th, 2010
11:30 am

[...] Two Democratic candidates for governor, Roy Barnes and DuBose Porter, expressed opinions similar to Rogers in this Sunday post. [...]