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Cheating on DC-CAS Costs Charter School

The teacher at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School suspected something was seriously amiss in April when a student taking the math portion of the DC-CAS standardized test announced that she was finished -- way early.

"You can't be finished. Go back and check your work," the teacher said.

"We did this yesterday. I know all of the answers," the student said.

The scene comes from a report by school officials detailing the investigation of a cheating scandal at their G Street campus in Southeast D.C. When the probe was done, an administrator and two teachers were dismissed and 27 fourth- and sixth-graders had their test scores invalidated.

Word of the cheating quietly surfaced on the Assessment and Accountability page of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) website in the form of a June 18 letter from Acting State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs. She said the agency would cut $10,000 of the school's Title I funding to cover the cost of replacing the exam tainted by what she called "this breach in security."

The students will be counted as performing Below Basic in the computation of the school's Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The letter, from which all names and other identifying details were redacted, mentioned the school's report, which The Post asked to see.

The thick narrative was also peppered with black marker. Yet it still pried open an interesting little window onto security challenges with the high-stakes DC-CAS.

When the teacher looked at the student's exam, she found that the problems were identical to those in a packet of practice questions distributed to students a few days earlier. A colleague had a similar experience, and they shared their concern with the school's leadership.

According to a statement from an unnamed school official, copies of the test were "distributed strategically to two new teachers who have never administered a DC-CAS before and didn't know what they looked like. The pages were copied without covers and distributed to them as extra practice for the kids."

Security was also lax, according to another staff member's statement. Copies of the exams were sitting in an unlocked cabinet for three weeks prior to testing week.
The administrator who leaked the test, and two teachers who knew of the cheating but did not report it, were dismissed, according to the report.

The report also strongly suggests that school politics may have helped create an envionment in which cheating could take root. It includes a letter of "reprimand" and another of "admonishment" to two unnamed Howard Road employees from Mosaica Education Inc., the company that operates Howard Road and charter schools in eight states.

One of them, who was apparently in a senior position, was cited for a failure of leadership because the teachers who suspected the cheating "did not feel comfortable" coming to him/her. "Had they not seen you as so personally close to [name redacted] they would have brought this issue directly to your attention."

The letter concluded: "Finally, you failed dramatically in your judgement about the personal integrity and professionalism of your key deputy at G Street, despite suspicions and evidence to the contrary, and put him in a position of trust as [job title redacted], thus opening up the possibility for this incident to have occurred."

When The Post called Howard asking for Nicole Richardson, listed on the DC Public Charter School Board Web site as principal of the G St. campus, the person on the other end hung up. Another Howard official who said he'd been on the job only for a month referred us to Mosaica offices in Atlanta. A phone call there was not returned.

--Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  August 12, 2009; 3:41 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Thank you Jesus, this was not a DC public school. And later this week, we can expect OSSE to at last release the DC CAS scores to the public.

Posted by: chelita | August 12, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Ha, Chelita, if it was DCPS the teachers would have told the administrator that they disagreed with George W Bush's policies and weren't going to teach to the test.

No seriously, this is one of the big issues I have with charters- they don't have regular management policies in-place.

Posted by: bbcrock | August 12, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

We can't know if there was no cheating in DCPS or in other charters.

We wouldn't know about this case if a couple of brave teachers hadn't stood up to tell the truth. Unfortunately, truth-telling has become an act of bravery.

Also, it's good news that the two new teachers who unwittingly gave kids the answers didn't take the fall. I'm sure that was the plan and I'm glad enough investigating was done to point the finger where it belonged.

I hope this incident becomes a lesson to others - don't cheat, and if you see it being done, report it.

Posted by: efavorite | August 13, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

As a DCPS teacher who is on my school's testing committee and administers the test, I have some insights about possible cheating. At least in my school, teachers are never alone with the test. We check it in and out at specific times, give it to students with proctors in the room and rush it down to the main office to be locked up til the next day when the students are finished. Any even dreamed of attempts at photocopying the test booklet would be extremely risky at school and we couldn't even get a booklet out of the school to run to Kinkos to copy off school property. Sure cheating could be done, but it would be quite hard for teachers to do. However others who have access to where the tests are stored in the evening after teachers turn them in, now that's another thing.

Posted by: chelita | August 13, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

You should not completely dismiss the idea that an entire school can conspire to cheat. The stakes (and in some cases rewards) are high enough for some to make it seem worth it. In our current atmosphere of produce or be canned it only enhances such delusions.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | August 13, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Kids cheat on test when they are afraid. They are afraid of telling the teacher that they failed to teach. So quietly and respecting the feelings of the teachers and hopefully without them knowing, turn in answers that this same teacher believes to be correct all the while masking the truth that this very teacher didn’t or equally worse can’t teach.

When found out, we as educators, teachers and parents are outraged. We confuse the value of morality with the fact that our kids weren’t given enough information to make the better decision and we fault them, not the teacher.

Why is this? Because we bought in to the game early on that cheaters never win. Yet, as adults we cheat every day. Politicians cheat on their wife, wage earners cheat on their income tax, children lie to their parents, and teachers lie to their students making them believe that they in fact know the truth.

Posted by: thoreauing | August 13, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Cheating happens in both DCPS and Charter Schools. I know of instances where administrators have changed answers and children have been drilled with the answers. Charters have a lot more to lose when they don't test well so they're more likely to "assist" the student. I wish charters were held to more scrutiny because I have yet to see significant results that say charters are worth the tax dollars I give them

Posted by: RUSerious1 | August 18, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

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