In a great piece of investigative reporting by Marisol Bello and Jack Gillium, USA Today has released a series of stories putting into question the gains made in the Washington DC public school system during the tenure of former Superintendent Michelle Rhee. In a late development, current D. C. Superintendent Kaya Henderson has asked the inspector general to investigate test erasures during Rhee's time in the district and whether test score gains came at the expense of cheating. -Dr. Petrosino
The District of Columbia's Board of Education will hold a hearing next week on irregularities in public school test scores, even as former chancellor Michelle Rhee defended the integrity of test results that showed unusual "erasure rates" from wrong answers to right.
In its months-long investigation, which included documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, USA TODAY looked at 103 public schools in the nation's capital where tests showed a pattern of unusually high numbers of answers that had been changed from wrong to right. The improvements in test scores earned Rhee and the school system national attention.
But since 2008, more than half of D.C. schools were flagged by a testing company for having unusually high rates of wrong-to-right erasures. At one school, Noyes Education Campus, the number of erasures in one class was so high that the odds of winning the Powerball grand prize were better than the erasures occurring by chance. "This is an abnormal pattern," says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years. A trio of academicians consulted by USA TODAY — Haladyna, George Shambaugh of Georgetown University and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University — say the erasure rates found at Noyes and at other D.C. public schools are so statistically rare, and yet showed up in so many classrooms, that they should be examined thoroughly.
USA TODAY examined testing irregularities in the District of Columbia's public schools because, under Rhee, the system became a national symbol of what high expectations and effective teaching could accomplish. Federal money also was at play: Last year, D.C. won an extra $75 million for public and charter schools in the U.S. government's Race to the Top competition. Test scores were a factor.
Rhee, who said Monday night that the investigation "absolutely lacked credibility," had declined to speak with USA TODAY despite numerous attempts before an article ran online and in Monday's newspaper.
See further reporting on this topic: When Standardized Test Scores Soared in D.C., were the gains real?