More than 90% of Students Learned in Spite of the CRCT Erasure Scandal?

Are you surprised?

You probably know that Atlanta Schools are in the middle of a test cheating scandal in which student bubble answer sheets were changed by erasing wrong answers to right answers.  Did the students learn, in spite of some teachers’ and administrators’ behavior.  They did because the the teaching practices that were initiated, especially in reading and English/language arts, seem to hold as evidenced in CRCT test results the year AFTER the scandal.

Read ahead for more on this. You’ll find the results interesting…..

Parks Middle School. In the Atlanta bubble test erasure investigation, Parks Middle School was center-stage in the investigation.  According to the report, “cheating” occurred from 2005 – 2009. According to the report, the principal conspired with other administrators and some teachers to systematically changed answers on student bubble tests during these, and made an effort to keep this from the test coordinator.

But, during this period of time Parks was held up as a model of how to turn around an urban school. In fact a lengthy report in the form of a published paper (here) of Parks’ efforts and successes was included in the Governor’s Investigative report. Parks was involved in many innovative curriculum efforts designed to help students achieve success.

I examined the data at CRCT website (Georgia Department of Education) for a three year period, 2008 -2010. I wanted to find out how the scores changed (if at all) in 2010 in each subject area. As you can see in the areas of Reading and English/Language Arts Parks more than 90% of Park’s 8th graders met or exceeded the state target, even after the year when “cheating” was discovered.  In the areas of math, science and social studies, we do see an appreciable decline in CRCT results in 2010.

At Parks Middle School, the increase in reading scores rose dramatically from 2004 from 35% to 74%, and then to 98.5 in 2009.  According to the Governor’s investigative team, the scores in 2010 (the year in which we can be certain there was no cheating), students in the 8th grade at Parks still scored above 90%.  The same is true for English/Language Arts.

Why Parks’ Students Scores Increased Dramatically.  In a paper describing the Parks’ story of success, the dramatic gains in student test scores was attributed to effective leadership, data-driven planning and instruction, high expectations, strategic partners (corporate sponsors), increased student discipline, and more professional development.  There is evidence that all of these did indeed occur, although some might argue with the “effective leadership” attribute.

These dramatic increases in student performance were lauded, locally and nationally, and Parks received many awards, and enormous financial support during this period.  Superintendent Hall praised the work of the principal, Christoper Waller, and both were recognized for creating conditions that made learning successful for poor children.  Specialists in reading, special education and other areas were hired to provide staff development and instruction for students. Waller launched Project GRAD at Parks Middle School, a reform model that included professional development for teachers, on going support, coaching and re-training.  Twenty-five Atlanta elementary, middle and high schools currently participate in Project GRAD.   Project GRAD is a national program, and is in place in more than ten cities around the country.

Georgia State Department Involvement. The Georgia Department of Education was involved with Parks Middle through the NCLB “Needs Improvement” schools support.  The state assigned Dr. Cheryl Hunley to serve with Parks and six other area schools.  Working closely with the principal, she provided professional development, and worked very closely with the entire staff at Parks.

In addition to these two major sources of professional development, Parks was also part of the SRT 2 (School Reform Team 2), an initiative begun by Dr. Hall which was led by an executive director who oversaw several schools.  Training, support, and assistance was localized with in the district through SRTeams.

There is no doubt Parks was involved in innovative school improvement.  And given, the data that is shown in the Figure 1, we can conclude that these efforts must have contributed to some of the gains shown in student CRCT test results, especially in Reading and English/Language Arts.

Test Results. The results in Math, which did decrease in 2010, are disappointing.  The scores in science and social studies show the greatest losses.  But I remember several years ago that Dr. Hall was quoted as saying that there is no way that students will do well on the NAEP Science Test with out Reading and Math.  She indirectly was saying that schools should emphasize reading and math to the exclusion of science, and perhaps social studies.

The data reported by the Investigative Team of the Governor’s Office, and the CRCT data for these three years does not answer all of the questions.  Teachers may have cheated in changing student scores, but students did learn and improve, and they need to be informed that all of their gain was not due to teacher’s changing their papers.

Parks Middle School Reading English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
2008 93.5 94.4 81.5 49.2 79
2009 98.5 96.9 85.4 58.5 66.9
2010 94 89.4 70.2 35 28
Average 95.3 93.5 79.0 47.5 57.9
Figure 1. Percent of Students Who Met or Exceeded the CRCT State Mandated Standard by Subject, 2008 – 2010 at Parks Middle School.  Note: 2009 was the year the Governor’s Office investigated excessive erasures in the APS.  In 2010, there were few, if any, erasures on bubble tests. 

Why did this happen?  What happened in Atlanta is still an open question. The interim Superintendent is moving swiftly to replace administrators and staff mentioned in the Governor’s Report, including the administrators at Parks Middle, and STR2. It is important to note that not only was the Superintendant of Atlanta aware of the dramatic increase in test scores at Parks, so was the Georgia Department of Education.

In whose interest? But it was in their interest to perhaps look the other way, and not ask the question that was asked by an Atlanta reporter. As I have said in this blog, the scrutiny of this scandal should stop at the Superintendent’s office in Atlanta, but should also include the Twin Towers, home of the Georgia Department of Education. Did they contribute to the culture of fear that the Governor has alluded to in the investigative report?

Finally, the data shows that student did improve their Reading and English/Language Arts scores over the years. Not to admit so is a diservice to the teachers at Parks, and more importantly to the students and their parents.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University