Monday, April 1, 2013

Cheating in Atlanta; but didn't it happen here too?

The indictments in Atlanta of the former superintendent, Beverly Hall and 32 associates for conspiracy in encouraging cheating on the Georgia state tests are shocking enough. But the evidence suggests that the much the same has happened over the last ten years in NYC.  The only difference is no effort or resources have been put by the city or the state into uncovering the phenomenon; in fact, quite the reverse. 

Under Bloomberg and Klein, the numbers of staff members monitoring test taking has fallen, and the DOE stopped doing the sort of routine erasure and score swing rate analysis which the Board of Ed had done previously.  (These methods suggested the anomalies in Atlanta).

Sol Stern relates the case of a Bronx principal whose school's scores jumped in one year to unbelievable levels, leading her to receive a big bonus and honors from Bloomberg & Klein.  After that year, the principal retired, and the school’s scores fell sharply again.

Shortly after the test scores were announced, Elba Lopez retired, collecting a $15,000 bonus for her school’s spectacular performance, thus boosting her pension by as much as $10,000 per year.

After promising an investigation, nothing was done because the DOE claimed they could not find the principal to interview her. Yet Yoav Gonen of the NY Post subsequently found her at her previously recorded home address.

Instead, teachers who came forward as whistleblowers to complain of corruption were punished and put in the rubber room; see the case of Maria Colon at Kennedy HS in the Bronx, for example.

When teachers reported these cases to authorities, the city would fail to follow up, and neither did the State Education Department. Routinely, the
Special Commissioner of Investigation referred cases to the DOE internal Office of Investigation and vice versa; or they would refer them to the state, which also did nothing. As a result, cheating allegations would languish for years. 

Meanwhile, corrupt principals like Janet Saraceno at Lehman directed teachers to change their grades and give them credit for courses they never took.  Saraceno was deemed an exemplary principal and  received a $25,000 performance bonus as a result.

When teachers came forward with their allegations against Saraceno, nothing was done.  After many months of inaction, teachers assumed the investigation was dead, and approached the media in 2009. About this scandal, Chris Cerf, who by that time was working for the Bloomberg campaign,
said this:

"We cannot comment on any aspects of this, but we certainly do not condone the kinds of things that are alleged. But at the same time, we believe that accountability for student outcomes is a central driver of positive reform and we believe it is critical to hold everybody in the system accountable for student results."

After more than two years, when the allegations of cheating were finally confirmed, Saraceno resigned and was appointed an “achievement coach” by DOE instead.  The implicit message to principals: lie, cheat or steal, it hardly matters as long as test scores go up; don’t worry, you will be protected.

Even when reports of cheating are finally confirmed, after years of delay, they are routinely suppressed.

Because of the grading system, which rates schools on their passing rates, teachers still speak of the pressure they receive from principals to pass at least 80% of their students. 
After Michael Goodwin, a reliable ally of the mayor, did a series of columns for the New York Post about the flood of allegations of cheating that he had received from teachers in his inbox, and got Chancellor Walcott to promise he would follow up, nothing was done.

Despite the lax response, a recent report showed confirmation of at least 100 cheating incidents since 2006. One can assume this is the tip of the iceberg.  The number of allegations continues to rise, with Condon explaining it this way:

“When you start giving money to the schools to do well, that’s another incentive to appear to do well if you are not doing well,” said Mr. Condon, a plain-spoken former New York police commissioner. “If a lot of the evaluation is based on how the students do, that’s an incentive for the teachers to try to help the students do well, even in ways that are unacceptable.”


Joel said...

The sad part is the enormous emphasis put on these tests. The whole reputation of the schools,teachers,students and administrators are based on, not what the students accomplish during the school year, but what they do on the state wide exams.
Wait until the teacher evaluation nonsense goes into effect, partially based on test scores, it will only get worse.

Anonymous said...

Ms Haimson, can you please utilize your contacts and resources to confirm a policy change that I hear is now DOE approved. With regards to high school regents examinations, student examinations were once kept available for audit for several years after test administration. With the recent news surrounding testing scandals now the department requires individual schools to maintain the students completed examinations for only a single year. If this is true, then the ability to review examinations given during many of the current administrations years of control of the schools cannot be audited. I believe this is so and hope you can confirm or deny this policy.

Anonymous said...

Not to forget the systemic "cheating" engineered by Joel KLein in the form of test score inflation, so as to give the Mayor something to boast about when actual gains did not exist.