Seen Cheating? Tell Me About It.
Bless Bill Turque, the Post's D.C. schools correspondent, for his dogged coverage of the erasures in several schools that suggest all was not right with the 2008 administration of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams. His latest story on Wednesday named the six elementary schools with the greatest concentration of suspicious answer changes, and provided enough to start a conversation on what to do about this.
As Turque has made clear in his continued coverage, a key moment in this drama was when D.C School Chancellor Michelle Rhee was told of the erasures, including one school that averaged 11 wrong-to-right answer changes, when the city average was less than 2. The testing company investigator who produced those numbers, however, declared the data "inconclusive." Rhee turned down a request from the then D.C. state superintendent of education, Deborah A. Gist to have someone take a closer look. (From the Editors: Please see the linked correction of this account.)
I suspect Rhee, in hindsight, has had second thoughts about that decision. Turque reveals in his latest story that the school system plans to check erasures on the most recent tests given last spring. I predict if similar patterns arise, they will get more attention.
I can understand why Rhee shrunk from a deeper investigation of possible cheating in 2008. She has many other issues on her plate, her staff is overworked, and checking into test cheating takes a particular kind of talent that is not very common. Sure, you can get tough, barge into the school under suspicion, interview everyone, and do your best imitation of the in-your-face detective Chris Meloni plays on "Law and Order: SVU."
I think that approach does more harm than good. If there has been cheating, teachers in that school will know about it, or have enough circumstantial evidence to give a wise superintendent an excuse to call the principal in for a chat. The best way to reach those teachers is by phone at home at night. Give them a chance to say what they know, in confidence, and the truth is more likely to emerge. The idea is to find out how it happened, who was involved, and make sure they don't have an opportunity to do it again. Cheating on a standardized test is not a crime. Nobody is going to jail. But we need to get those people away from kids, or if they are contrite, find some way to salvage their careers as educators.
The teachers I know who have seen cheating, or its unmistakable signs, don't want to pursue it. Blowing the whistle can kill their careers. If the D.C. erasures involved cheating, it had to be the fault of adults. Elementary school students would have no reason to stick their necks out on a test that had no consequences for them. Cheating by educators is thankfully rare. (Cheating by high school students, on the other hand, is much more frequent, a topic for another day.)
If someone did cross the line in D.C., or anywhere else, last year or this year, some teachers will know about it. I have been keeping secrets for educators for many years, and I think I can be trusted. If you want to tell me what you know in confidence, off the record, just to hash it out with another human being, call me at 703-518-3012 or email me at email@example.com. We can discuss your options. Maybe you don't have any. But it will help me to understand what is going on, and I would be grateful for your advice and counsel on how I should interpret what you are telling me, and what you think we should be doing about those erasures in 2008. .
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