D.C. Schools Chancellor Says Districts Need Cheating Investigation Guidelines

By Christina A. Samuels — February 28, 2012 2 min read
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Addressing a symposium of experts on test cheating and security organized by the federal National Center for Education Statistics, District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that school systems need a framework of “best practices” to help guide them on detecting testing irregularities and investigating allegations. Until then, a district’s efforts to ferret out testing impropriety will be subject to second-guessing from the public and the press, she said.

“We’ve failed to create any national accepted statistical analysis to determine when scores are suspect, and we failed to propose a reliable investigative plan when results are called into question,” Henderson said.

The District of Columbia was the subject of a March 2011 investigation by USA Today, which suggested that test sheets at schools that had soaring test scores were marred by a high number of wrong-to-right erasures, a sign of test-tampering. The high scores were earned under the leadership of then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Since the story broke, the 45,000-school system has been accused of doing a poor job of investigating itself, including in a Sunday column by New York Times reporter Michael Winerip, who said that asking Henderson to participate in the symposium was “disheartening.”

Henderson said that when the cheating allegations were brought to her attention, she was plunged into a “dizzying” world of data analysis that seemed aimed to put districts in a defensive posture, she said. The school system brought in outside experts, interviewed school officials, investigated every allegation and punished or terminated employees, she said.

“At the same time, it was easy sport for the press to play the what-more-could-be-done game,” Henderson said.

Her request for guidance last year from the Education Department led to today’s symposium, which brought together experts in test cheating prevention, detection and investigation. Addressing the New York Times’ concern about her appearance, Henderson said that the press has framed test integrity as a attempt to “out” deceitful districts.

“This approach is exactly wrong,” she said. “School districts like ours struggle with these issues constantly. We don’t struggle to hide challenge or to conceal wrongdoing. we struggle to ensure our test results are reliable and trustworthy.”

After her presentation, Henderson said that she did not know the status of the outside investigations into DC schools. She said that she would trust the outcome, but without standards, “every investigation is attackable or assailable.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.