DISD (And A Whole Lot of Other School Districts) Not Buying Cheating Allegations From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On Monday, we told you the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had published a broad investigation concluding that hundreds of school districts, including Dallas Independent School District, displayed "troubling test patterns" that could indicate widespread cheating. That day, DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said the district had been aggressively investigating suspicious test activity for the past eight years, and that although they were certainly willing to look further at what the AJC had found, they weren't quite buying it. Late yesterday, he sent us the official response from the district's Evaluation and Accountability Department. Short version: no way.

Evaluation and Accountability faulted the newspaper for not taking into account high student mobility: If you compare test scores from one class across two years, there's no guarantee those are the same kids. "It is highly probable that this type of analysis will overestimate the number of schools that are engaged in system-wide cheating," the statement reads.

DISD also defended their own methods to detect fraud, which uses statistical methods to analyze scores from the current and previous two years. Classes that deviate too far from the norm get more testing. The district doesn't rely solely on test results and stats, though, adding:

Anomalous results from the statistical analyses are viewed as an entry point for a more thorough investigation and not as the sole determining factor that cheating has occurred. Analyses of number of erasures, wrong-to-right erasures, other forms of test data, student grade and test patterns and interviews of teachers, staff and potentially students all could serve as evidence to help make these determinations.

The district concludes that "Dallas ISD uses a much more refined instrument than the one used by the paper."

And they're not the only ones criticizing the AJC's methodology.

Other school districts spotlighted by the paper have hit back with their own responses. Houston ISD's spokesperson also issued a statement pointing out the newspaper had failed to take into account student mobility. Weatherford superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks went much further in a letter to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"There is absolutely no truth in what this story is inferring," Hanks wrote in a letter to the editor. "I take offense to this story and believe it slights the hard work of our students, their teachers and parents and the school district as a whole. From what I have been able to determine, this report should be characterized as reckless and irresponsible at best."

A member of the AJC investigative team which produced the report has already responded to the student mobility issue, saying that some districts with high mobility didn't have suspicious groupings of scores. She points out that high mobility is a feature of most urban school districts, meaning that you'd expect all of them to be flagged. They weren't.

But the strongest criticism of the entire investigation comes from Atlanta's alt-weekly, Creative Loafing, whose editor writes that the number of cheat-y school districts "is likely tremendously overstated and the data used to arrive at it is deeply flawed." The editor also alleges that AJC was aware of the study's shortcomings and decided to publish it anyway, "because it didn't have the time, resources, or desire to dive deeper into these numbers."

That editor is Eric Celeste, D's former managing editor. Even if Frontburner hadn't written about his take-down of the investigation yesterday, we still would have seen it -- because DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander also sent it to us.

The full statement from DISD is attached below.

Response to Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan

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