The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a sweeping investigation over the weekend of possible cheating on standardized tests in dozens of school districts across the country, and Dallas Independent School District made an appearance.
The AJC examined test results for 69,000 schools in 49 states and found "high concentrations of suspect scores" in about 200 schools. DISD was one of about 13 school districts in North Texas that was named as potentially suspicious, with 10 percent or more of their classes flagged for unusually high or low performances.
DISD isn't denying the allegations just yet. But DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander told Unfair Park this morning the district has worked "aggressively" to combat test fraud for the last eight years and defended the current policies in place to detect cheating. "We have in place a really good process right now" to ferret out suspicious scores, he said.
Dallas was one of nine cities that the AJC singled out for test patterns that "defy statistical probability." They write that in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011, 242 classes "exhibited suspicious scores," where around 130 would normally be expected. The AJC places the odds of that happening without cheating at about 1 in 100 billion.
In their its analysis of Dallas, the AJC also referenced the Roslyn Carter scandal, in which a DISD principal was found to have only taught math and reading while fabricating science and social studies scores. Carter was, of course, recently fired from her new gig in Washington after officials there became aware of her doings in Dallas. They also say that there are "high stakes" in Dallas schools because of the bonuses some teachers receive for good test performances from their students.
"While the analysis doesn't prove cheating," the AJC writes, "it found troubling patterns in hundreds of cities. Those patterns resemble early indicators in Atlanta that ultimately led to the biggest cheating scandal in American history."
But DISD spokesperson Dahlander says "test security has been a major initiative for us for several years," adding in an email:
Dallas ISD aggressively stepped up its approach to test security when irregularities were first reported eight years ago. Teachers are no longer allowed to administer state tests or other secure exams for their own classes and testing is monitored by central staff to make certain that testing procedures are followed. In addition, Dallas ISD evaluates and analyzes results to identify and investigate test anomalies. We believe we are one of the few districts in the state of Texas to conduct this kind of analysis.
When an anomaly is identified, the district works closely with the Texas Education Agency to investigate further. This is what happened in the case of test irregularities at Lang Middle School in 2009. The district discovered the anomalies, reported them to the state and went to great lengths to retest students over the summer.
Dallas ISD has taken personnel action, up to and including termination, on individuals who have violated testing procedures even as recently as this school year.
Dahlander says that they'd like to know if the AJC has identified specific classrooms where suspicious activity is taking place, so DISD can go in and investigate further. But he added that the district already rigorously screen test scores from each campus. "They may not understand the nuances in our school district," he said of the AJC. "They're looking at it from a 30,000 foot level and we're looking at it form a campus-by-campus level." He denied that financial incentives based on test scores might induce teachers to try to game the system: "That's possible, but I don't think that's a major driving factor."
"We'd certainly like to see more information and we'll try to contact them," Dahlander said. "But there are probably hundreds of school districts trying to do the same thing. We've put in place all of these safeguards in Dallas. I really do think we're ahead of the curve."
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He also sent along DISD's test security manual from fall 2011, which we've appended for your perusal.
The AJC report has already become national news, with a Georgia Senator and the president of the American Federation of Teachers both calling for further investigation.