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.
August 12, 2009; 3:41 PM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , Education
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