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D.C. investigates just one school in test-cheating scandal

This story is so mind-boggling, comment seems impossible. Meanwhile, more than 70% of Vermont's schools have been labeled as failing to meet standards.

By Greg Toppo and Marisol Bello

A 17-month investigation into possible cheating on standardized tests at Washington, D.C., public schools focused on only one school and did not expand to any other school with rising test scores and suspiciously high rates of wrong answers changed to right ones.

Noyes Education Campus, a kindergarten through 8th grade school in Washington, D.C., was the site of a cheating investigation.

In a report issued Wednesday, city investigators said they found no reason to probe more than one elementary school, Noyes Education Campus, whose principal resigned in the wake of a USA TODAY story in March 2011. Investigators said they limited the probe because they believed news coverage of the scandal would limit future cheating ΓΆ€” and because schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson handed over "no additional evidence" of cheating or "investigative leads to pursue."

D.C.'s Office of the Inspector General said it considered expanding the probe to other schools, but concluded that "once the erasure issue came to light, any improper practices that may have occurred in the past would diminish."

In one case, investigators noted that J.O. Wilson Elementary School had also turned in high numbers of suspicious answer sheets in 2009, but they relied on Henderson for guidance. Henderson "said she does not consider a high number of erasures to be an indication of a problem and she feels that the rising scores at that school are indicative of the quality teachers there," states the report.

The probe relied largely on interviews of teachers and principals, noting that none of those who worked at Noyes "informed investigators of cheating at any of those other schools." But findings at Noyes confirmed that cheating occurred, with one teacher saying that the test coordinator there told teachers to group students into three categories, with those who could improve their scores "with assistance" seated at the back of each room "where it would be more difficult for the monitors to observe them through a window or a doorway, so that teachers could assist these students."

Marvin Tucker had been raising the flag about possible cheating at Noyes when his daughter Marla was a third-grader there in 2003. His concerns went ignored.

On Wednesday, Tucker, who is running for school board, said he felt vindicated by the Inspector General's report, but said the investigation was nowhere near complete.

"In a year and five months, you only investigate one school," Tucker said. "I think it's a travesty that you spend that much money and not look at the whole system."

"While this report should help reassure the public about D.C.'s commitment to test security, this is hardly a clean bill of health, since the IG didn't look beyond Noyes," Mary Lord, a member of the D.C. State Board of Education, said. "While the report states that 'much of the information obtained throughout our review of Noyes and our corresponding recommendations, particularly regarding exam security procedures,' is applicable to other schools, that glosses over the point that other schools may in fact have posted scores inflated by improper coaching or other unacceptable assists."

— Greg Toppo and Marisol Bello
USA Today


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