Suspicious Test Scores

D.C. to dig deeper on test score irregularities

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By Jack Gillum, Marisol Bello and Scott Elliott, USA TODAY

“The integrity of test scores is perhaps more important to us than any other district because we use the test scores in important ways,” says Interim Chancellor of D.C. schools Kaya Henderson. (Photo by By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

The acting head of Washington, D.C.’s public schools requested Tuesday that the district’s inspector general review investigations of eight schools that were flagged in 2009 for irregularities in their standardized tests.

Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson requested the review after an investigation published by USA TODAY showed more than half of D.C. schools were cited since 2008 for having unusually high “erasure rates,” which signify wrong answers changed to right ones on tests.

“The integrity of test scores is perhaps more important to us than any other district because we use the test scores in important ways — evaluation, compensation,” Henderson said in a statement. “We have no interest in basing these important decisions on information that has anything less than the utmost integrity.”

Henderson also released excerpts of the 2009 investigation of erasure rates that “did not find evidence that any misbehavior occurred.”

Since 2008, D.C. Public Schools posted dramatic increases in test scores that earned former chancellor Michelle Rhee and the school system national recognition.

Suspicious test scores series

The Hechinger Report, USA TODAY and several other news outlets partnered to investigate the standardized test scores of millions of students in six states and the District of Columbia. The investigation identified 1,610 examples of statistically rare, perhaps suspect, gains on state tests.

READ THE WHOLE SERIES

Rhee told The Indianapolis Star editorial board on Tuesday that the outside investigation was “full and comprehensive” and “went well beyond the call of duty.”

“I don’t know that there is much more that the district can do than that,” Rhee said. “If there is, I certainly would be open to hearing that.”

But the head of the firm brought in to run the inquiry continues to maintain his team could have gone further but was not asked to.

John Fremer, an executive with Caveon Test Security, told USA TODAY this month that “D.C. schools thought they had enough information for what they wanted us to investigate.”

“We would love to do (more data analysis),” Fremer said then. “They probably won’t decide to go deeper. But we’ll tell them we can go deeper.”

Washington Teachers’ Union President Nathan Saunders says a full-blown investigation is needed, with subpoena powers to question educators and obtain documents related to testing irregularities.

This story originally appeared in USA TODAY on March 30, 2011.

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