Could the Atlanta Cheating Scandal Happen Here?
Jul 7, 2011
by Emily Alpert
Voice of San Diego
A bombshell broke in Atlanta this week: A state investigation in Georgia found that Atlanta teachers and principals erased and corrected mistakes on standardized tests for students, a widespread practice that was covered up by area superintendents and ignored by the superintendent.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first raised questions about test scores at some schools more than two years ago, pointing out schools that had seemingly unbelievable gains on state tests in a single year. The school district did its own investigation, which the state rejected as flawed.
Could this happen here in California?
Maybe, but if it does we wouldn't be able to detect some of the same things that Georgia investigators did. Besides looking at massive gains at specific schools, one of the ways that investigators sniffed out cheating was by analyzing erasures: how often wrong answers were erased and changed to right answers. If a school or a classroom has extraordinarily high rates of wrong-to-right erasures, it's a red flag.
But California doesn't collect that data anymore. USA Today mentioned that absent data in a sweeping investigation of cheating across the country earlier this year:
John Boivin, administrator of California's standardized testing program, says his state once conducted random test audits at 150 to 200 schools a year. California dropped the audits two years ago because of record budget deficits. And the state no longer collects data on which schools show unusually high rates of erasures on answer sheets — sometimes a clue, experts say, that either students or school officials might be cheating. Total savings: $105,000.
Instead of auditing or tracking erasures, California relies on school districts to report and investigate any alleged cheating, Boivin told me in an interview earlier this year. But as the scandal in Atlanta shows, school districts may not be the best at policing themselves.