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Math scores plunge in TAKS retest at Lang Middle School in Dallas ISD

By Tawnell D. Hobbs

The Dallas school district has not yet said that cheating occurred at Lang Middle School, but test scores released Wednesday make it clear that the math scores submitted for the school's eighth-graders this spring were wildly inflated.

And upon releasing the very different TAKS scores, the district also announced Wednesday that an additional "security breach" has been discovered among seventh-grade writing results at Lang.

About 400 eighth-graders were called back to school this summer to retake the math test after district officials discovered "irregularities" in their results.

The first time, 79.5 percent of the students supposedly passed their state math exams. But in the retest, only 43.7 passed. The drop was even steeper in the percentage of students thought to be "commended," meaning they got enough answers correct to be considered college-ready by state standards ΓΆ€“ 62.8 percent plummeted to 3.8 percent.

Investigation expanded

The district's investigation, which district officials have said centers on the actions of adults and not students, has been expanded.

"This obviously takes it to a different level," said DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, referring to the new seventh-grade concerns, adding that whoever is responsible will be held accountable. A recent letter from the district's attorneys to state officials indicated that if allegations are true, the situation could ultimately lead to employees facing felony charges.

District officials have not elaborated on the irregularities, saying the investigation is ongoing. Texas Education Agency officials were not available late Wednesday to discuss the seventh-grade findings.

Seventh-grade students will not be retested because the writing test does not determine whether a student can move to the next grade level, district officials said. Eighth-graders, however, must pass the TAKS exam in math and reading to be promoted.

Most of Lang's eighth-graders, 318, showed up for the retest on June 30.

Students who failed the exam or didn't show up, roughly estimated at more than 250 students, will have to go before a grade placement committee to advance to ninth grade, according to TEA.

District officials said that parents of students who did not pass the test will be contacted during the next two weeks to set up a meeting of the grade placement committee, which will include a principal, teacher and the parent. Hinojosa said that prior performance would be assessed in making the determination for promotion.

Hinojosa was sympathetic to parents and students at the school.

"We apologize to the parents and the kids ΓΆ€“ they were not responsible for this situation," he said. "I feel terrible for the school. I feel terrible for the kids. I hate it for them. It's a huge distraction."

DISD caught anomalies

Hinojosa said the passing rates for the retest still aren't an accurate indicator of student performance, because the kids were on summer break for a month before being called back to school to retake the test.

"We don't have an accurate assessment of what the kids know; that's the shame," he said.

Trustee Ron Price, who represents the East Dallas area that includes Lang, has said the district was tipped off by "a tremendous amount of kids who had the commended label" on the exam.

The district's Evaluation and Accountability department discovered the irregularities through a statistical analysis for testing anomalies, according to the district.

DISD started analyzing its TAKS scores for possible cheating and created new rules to better deter and detect cheating after a series of Dallas Morning News articles revealed cheating in schools in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere.

Price: It's criminal

DISD officials say they had recommended a retest in May after the anomalies were discovered in the April testing, but TEA staffers felt the action was premature. A TEA spokeswoman has said that at the time, the district did not have enough evidence or supporting documents to justify invalidating the students' scores.

Later, state officials said the unusual step should be taken. TEA gave the district a two-week extension to complete its investigation by Sept. 1.

Some students have said that it's unfair that they had to return during summer break to retake the exam. And those who had achieved the "commended" level on the earlier test had been especially worried about doing as well on the retest.

Trustee Price said the individuals who are responsible for the irregularities will be held accountable "to the full extent of the law."

"The individuals who are responsible for this put these kids at an extreme disadvantage retaking the math TAKS test in the summer," he said. "Cheating children, to me, is a criminal act."

— Tawnell D. Hobbs
Dallas Morning News


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