The Georgia Department of Education has widened its investigation of standardized test cheating, and as many as 20 DeKalb County public schools are likely to be investigated for changing students’ answers, according to state data released this month.
Six county schools were labeled “severe” after the state discovered the number of erasures from wrong to right answers on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in each classroom were well above the state average. Those schools include the school system’s truancy school, Stoneview, Glen Haven, Shadow Rock and Cedar Grove elementary schools as well as DeKalb Path Academy.
When called by a Champion reporter Feb. 11, each principal declined comment, and most said they had been ordered to direct all questions to the district office. District spokesman Dale Davis offered a brief statement.
“We’re going to cooperate fully with the department of education’s request for an investigation,” he said. “That’s really all we can say at this point until this investigation commences and concludes.”
Twenty schools in DeKalb were also labeled “moderate,” and schools labeled moderate or severe will likely face state investigations, according to state officials. The governor’s Office of Student Achievement led the investigation.
The state analyzed each CRCT test issued to students statewide in grades one through eight. The test includes three sections – English, math and reading – and is the primary state benchmark to measure student achievement. The state tallied each instance where a wrong answer on a test was erased and changed to the right one in each classroom and then compared each class’ average to the state average. Nearly 153,000 classrooms were examined, according to state data.
Schools were split into four categories: clear, minimal concern, moderate concern and severe concern. Schools with 0 to 5 percent of classrooms flagged were cleared from the investigation. Schools with between 6 and 10 percent of classrooms flagged were labeled minimal and could face some intervention on a school-to-school basis.
Schools with 11 to 24 percent of classrooms flagged were labeled moderate, and schools with more than a quarter of classrooms flagged were labeled severe.
Statewide, the vast majority of elementary and middle schools – 1,488 of them – were cleared of concern. About 10 percent or 178 were labeled minimal, 117 were labeled moderate and 74 were labeled severe.
In DeKalb County, the system’s truancy school had nearly 67 percent of its classes flagged for answer changing. Nearly half of Stoneview Elementary’s classes were flagged, and more than 40 percent of classes were flagged at Glen View and Shadow Rock elementary schools.
The subject of test tampering is particularly sore across the DeKalb County School System. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission suspended former Atherton Elementary Principal James Berry on Sept. 10 from teaching for two years, and former Assistant Principal Doretha Alexander was suspended for one year in what state officials and media outlets labeled a severe sentence for changing students’ CRCT answers.
The two educators were part of a large investigation that implicated 13 school officials across the metro Atlanta area. Berry and Alexander were the only ones to face criminal charges. Berry pleaded guilty to falsifying a state document and will serve two years of probation and a fine. Alexander participated in community service and will not face more punishment.
The vast majority of schools under scrutiny this month are within the Atlanta metro area and state officials have said they do not yet have proof that the schools cheated. But in a presentation to the state school board, state officials said there was only a one-in-1,000 chance of a classroom being flagged improperly.
Dave Schutten, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, questioned how the state could investigate so many schools.
“I just can’t believe that there would be cheating as widespread as they say there is,” he said. “I just told (teachers) to hold tight. The focus is not on entire schools. It will be on individual classrooms.”