No Indications of Widespread Exam Cheating Found in DC

Results of the investigation by the U.S. Department of Education of the cheating scandal in Washington. D.C. schools are in, and according to the Inspector General, there is no evidence to confirm that cheating was widespread in the school system. The findings, which were released earlier this week, serve as a vindication for former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose tenure was shadowed by accusations that most of the gains made in the district were due to misconduct during the administration of standardized exams.

The investigation was launched in response to allegations by Adell Cothorne, who used to head up the school at the epicenter of the scandal – Noyes Education Campus – that the district applied for and won several federal grants only because district officials submitted results from exams where cheating was suspected. The findings confirm that cheating went on at one of the schools whose results were submitted in grant applications, but that the problem went no further.

As chancellor from 2007 to 2010, Rhee placed an emphasis on student test scores, tying exam results to the pay and employment status of teachers and principals. The approach produced higher scores, but also became the focus of public controversy in 2011 after a USA Today investigation documented an unusually high number of wrong-to-right pencil erasures on standardized test papers going back to 2008. The testing company, CTB-McGraw/Hill, however, pointed out the erasures to then state superintendent Deborah Gist in 2008.

Critics are already speaking up about the report for its lack of breadth. Although a high number of erasures were reported in nearly half of the district’s schools – with the highest number showing up during Rhee’s first year in the job – only results from a single school were looked at. The Inspector General’s office also didn’t look at the data from Rhee’s first year in office at all.

Cothorne, who headed up Noyes during the 2010-2011 academic year, alerted her superiors to the possibility that cheating might be going on after finding a number of teachers in a room surrounded by exam booklets and answer sheets.

In her lawsuit, Cothorne outlines several other incidents of alleged cheating she said she observed while principal at Noyes. Each involved the DC BAS test, a practice test leading up to the year-end DC CAS test.

In one instance, Cothorne reported walking in on a teacher teaching materials that were going to be on the DC BAS exam while test booklets were in front of the students. In a separate incident, a Noyes teacher allegedly told her, “You know they cheat on their tests,” according to the complaint. When test security was later tightened at Noyes, according to Cothorne, scores fell by 25 percent.