School days: Bill Turque buries the lede!


Another way cheating on test scores can screw you: Our old pal Bill Turque wrote a fascinating front-page report in yesterday’s Washington Post.

Once he got started, that is! We’ve never ever seen someone bury the lede quite the way Turque did!

Turque wrote about a fifth-grade teacher in DC who got fired because of her students’ test scores. This teacher got excellent ratings from superiors who observed her work in the classroom.

But when their end-of-year test scores came back, her students hadn’t done as well as they did the previous year. On that basis, the teacher was fired.

So far, there isn’t a lot to this story. For all anyone can know, this could have been a lousy teacher who simply got good subjective evaluations.

But in paragraph 19, deep in his piece, Turque finally got to the point. What the heck took him so long? In this passage, the rubber at last met the road:
TURQUE (3/7/12): Wysocki [the teacher] said there is another possible explanation: Many students arrived at her class in August 2010 after receiving inflated test scores in fourth grade.

Fourteen of her 25 students had attended Barnard Elementary. The school is one of 41 in which publishers of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests found unusually high numbers of answer sheet erasures in spring 2010, with wrong answers changed to right. Twenty-nine percent of Barnard’s 2010 fourth-graders scored at the advanced level in reading, about five times the District average.

D.C. and federal investigators are examining whether there was cheating, but school officials stand by the city’s test scores.

Kamras [a DC school official] acknowledged that the Barnard data are “suggestive” of a problem but said that without clear evidence, nothing could be done. Overall, he said that Wysocki was treated fairly and that her case does not reflect a deeper issue with IMPACT.

“I stand behind my evaluation of her,” he said. “It does not, in my view, call into question anything.”
There’s no way to know what happened here. But here’s what might have happened:

When these children were fourth-graders, someone tampered with their tests, producing bogus achievement levels—“inflated test scores.”

As fifth-graders, they couldn’t maintain this artificial success. Result? Their teacher got fired!

There’s no question: Under the “value-added” testing system, a fifth-grade teacher is royally screwed if her students’ fourth-grade teacher (or their principal) cheated on their test scores.

In theory, “value-added” makes perfect sense, although there are serious technical limitations. But when it comes to testing programs, cheating blows everything up.

Teachers and principals cheated all over DC. Is that why this teacher got fired?


  1. My eyes were first opened to this problem of altered scores on standardized tests, oh, about 10 years ago, and even then I thought I was a latecomer and a dodo for my lack of awareness.

    But what occurred to me then -- immediately, in fact -- was the question of why teachers whose jobs depend so vitally on these tests are allowed to administer and handle them. It would make only the most elemental sense for standardized tests to be administered, handled and graded by someone else -- anyone other than teachers and administrators in the schools involved.

    And here we now have years and years and years of evidence of all sorts of screwing around with these things, but I've never ever heard anyone suggest this thoroughly obvious solution. Why is this?

  2. An analogy is the demand that businesses make a profit. Heads of business units are routinely fired if they don't make a profit. But, they can't easily get away with cooking the books; there's an internal audit department designed to catch finagling. And, if a mangement does finagle their results, they can go to prison. E.g., Enron.

    Evidently the educational establishment is not sufficiently concerned with making sure that their students are actually learning

  3. This says very little about the "educational establishment." These high-stakes tests were foisted upon public schools against their will. The NAEP scores (the most respected standardized testing organization) have shown that our public schools have an upward trend since the early '70s. Our schools have not been in crisis, and in terms of what improvement could be had, there is no evidence that tough, hold-the-teachers-feet-to-the-fire approaches work at all. Personally, I think that the overemphasis upon the three R's allows nonsense like Holder's due process/judicial process distinction to fly because our civics courses have been crowded out.

    1. If rich and powerful people like Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg say education is in crisis, then we must believe them. They know more than us. They are the producers.

      In general, the rich and powerful always know best. If only the small people would wake up and let them run things, we'd all be better off. If they don't want teachers' unions or public schools or anything that's not privatized, why don't we just give them what they want?

      They know best, we bow before them and worship the ground they walk on, they give us the freedom they think we should have, to mock minorities and cut their taxes even more so that they have more money to produce, that's the American way.

  4. An important post, for sure. Shocking problem.