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.

Grassroots Movement in New York City May Relate to Current Testing Scandal in Atlanta

The Grassroots Education Movement, a group of citizens in New York City, are organizing a campaign against the high stakes use of standardized testing in their schools. Their first meeting will be on July 18th at the CUNY Graduate Center.

According the organizers of the Grassroots Education Movement, many citizens feel that their school have become testing obsessed, forgetting to focus on learning and teaching.   In a research study cited in Schools Matter:

Data from interviews reveals that teachers experience negative emotions as a result of the publication of test scores and determine to do what is necessary to avoid low scores. Teachers believe that scores are used against them, despite the perceived invalidity of the tests themselves. From classroom observations it was concluded that testing programs substantially reduce the time available for instruction, narrow curricular offerings and modes of instruction, and potentially reduce the capacities of teachers to teach content and to use methods and materials that are incompatible with standardized testing formats.

In whose interest is it to promote and continue with the CRTC as the determiner of student learning and teacher and school success?

What is happening in New York (and in most large school districts in the nation’s biggest cities), has implications for the city of Atlanta. High-Stakes testing has taken its toll in Atlanta, not only on the citizens and their children, but the current cadre of professional teachers who work in the Atlanta Public Schools.  The Investigative Report ordered by the Georgia Governor’s Office clearly stated that a “culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence infected this (APS) school system and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct.”

The Governor’s Report contains the scandal that occurred in the Atlanta schools to within the walls of the school system, when in all likely hood it was the State’s CRCT Program, and the NCLB Act that created the environment that led to a “culture of fear,” as stated the Governor’s Report.  It is not enough to simply silence, fire, and publicly humiliate the teachers and administrators named in the report.  The investigation, that has been set into motion, need to address some very “tough questions.”

  • In whose interest is it to promote and continue with the CRTC as the determiner of student learning and teacher and school success?
  • Does the CRTC corporate style of education promote a simplistic, dumbing-down educational system by encouraging teachers to “teach to the test” and is this supported by research in the learning sciences?
  • Why has the state ignored research on cheating by teachers and other school personnel, and not attempted to get to the root cause of this culture?
  • Why hasn’t the research bureau of the state education department investigated and reported to the public the substantial evidence exists that high-stakes tests do create negative, unintended consequences?

Smith, M. (1991). Put to the Test: The Effects of External Testing on Teachers Educational Researcher, 20 (5), 8-11 DOI: 10.3102/0013189X020005008

High Stakes Assessment in Georgia Fail the Test

In the last two posts, I’ve opened a discussion on the high-stakes testing in Georgia.  More than 80% of the students who took the social studies test failed, and about 40% of the students failed the math CRCT (Criterion Referenced Competency Test).

The Georgia State Department of Education is at a loss to explain these dismal results.  Oh, they offer the excuse that the Standards are new and more rigorous, and that students may not be quite ready for news tests “aligned” to these new Standards.  Furthermore, the tests were developed by an outside contractor, not by teachers and other educators in Georgia.  Yes, teachers and educators “review” the contractors test questions, and they even did a trial test.  In the end, the test does nothing more than reinforce mastery learning, and an overemphasis on teaching to the test.

High stakes and accountability type testing has taken hold not only in Georgia, but in all of the other states in the U.S.A., and most countries around the world.  There are also two very large international tests (PISA and TIMSS), the results of which are used to compare and contrast academic performance of students across countries.

In Georgia the situation is an embarrassment for the State, and unnecessary assault on students, parents and teachers.  It’s so bad that the State decided to throw out the social studies results, and now many parents are calling for the ejection of the math results.

Major changes need to be made, not only in Georgia, but at the national level.  In Georgia, the state needs to develop alternative ways of ensuring parents that their students are getting a good education.  Simply relying on a number, a test score, is an insult to the educational community, parents and students.  Now, more than 800 universities and colleges are NOT using either SAT or ACT test scores in admission processes, instead opting for alternative data.  At the national level, the mandated testing required by the NCLB act has been a failure.

The students’ grades in school are more reliable measurement of performance in schooling, and should be the fundamental way that student progress is assessed.  There have been enormous strides made in the field of assessment including ways to use diagnostic and formative assessment strategies to improve student learning, and we have developed a whole score of alternative summative methods of assessment.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fair Test) has called for a critical examination of high-stakes testing, and has supported the development of alternative ways to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.  Clearly, the assessment that occurring in Georgia is not fair, and not very beneficial when huge numbers of students fail.

It’s the State that has failed the test.

Testing in Georgia: Students Miss the Mark or Did the State Officials

In today’s Atlanta Journal there was an article that reported that Georgia Department of Education officials were shocked by the state math and social studies tests. You see on the end-of-year CRCT only 20 to 30 percent of the students passed the social studies test, and about 40 percent of the Georgia’s could be held back because they failed the math test (the truth is, they must fail both the math and reading test to be retained).

I know that this is a radical shift from the writing I’ve been doing about the earthquake in China, but this is the season when students have finished taking their high-stakes tests, and the time when departments of education release the results to parents, schools, and the general public. So here are some thoughts on these tests.

This is also the time that the state department “interprets” or tries to explain the results. Now you must understand that the State Superintendent of Schools in Georgia is infamous for suggesting the word “evolution” be banned from the State of Georgia Science Standards. She suggested this several years ago claiming that evolution was simply a “buzz word.” It did not happen mostly because of the hyper-mail and telephone calls she received from around the country.

When test scores go up, officials usually claim that that the standards are being interpreted and taught properly, and the students are meeting expectations. When the score go down, as they did this year in math and social studies, amazing reasons surface: maybe the standards aren’t clear; some of the test questions are just too complicated and difficult. If you listen to students, some of them say, “we never even covered that material in our curriculum.” I’ve always believed that the reasons state level officials give for scores (whether they go up, stay the same, or go down), have little to do with actual day-to-day teaching.

High Jumping
Administrators at the state level typically advise us that these high-stakes tests measure to what degree students have met or not met the standards, and in fact they liken this process to the Olympic sport of high jumping, e.g. raising the bar. Cox and other administrators suggest “if we ‘raise the bar’ or ‘standards’ on the students we might expect a bit of dip (on test scores), before the students soar over the bar. Apparently there was a dip in test scores in social studies and math this year in Georgia. To me this is an annual game played out in cities and states around the country, indeed around the world. See Svein Sjoberg’s critique of the international science testing program, PISA.

But we continue to fool ourselves with these high-stakes tests. They do not provide schools, teachers or students with information that will lead to improved learning. They simply put students in a position being betrayed by schooling when in fact schools should be in the service of students and parents. Over the past 20 years, the standards movement and associated high-stakes testing has led to teachers saying things like, “I used to be a good teacher; now all I do is pass out books, and get students ready for the test.”

What do you think about high-stakes testing? Are students missing the mark on these tests, as in the case of the Georgia results in mathematics and social studies, or have we missed the mark in not applying what we know about motivation, pedagogy, and evaluation?

Alfie Kohn, an outspoken and published critic of high-stakes testing, says this:

A plague has been sweeping through American schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools. Invoking such terms as “tougher standards,” “accountability,” and “raising the bar,” people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.