DC: Test Irregularities Uncovered at Elem/Middle School

An investigation by the office of D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby has uncovered several instances of testing-integrity irregularities at least one DC-area school. The investigators discovered several instances where one teacher at Noyes Education Campus guided students towards correct answers while supervising the administration of a standardized test in 2010.

Although the findings raised several questions about test security at Noyes, in the end, investigators concluded that there wasn’t enough to proceed with disciplinary steps and chose not to expand the investigation to other district schools. The inspector general’s office devoted a substantial amount of manpower to interview dozens of school employees, parents and students, but in the end concluded that the testing problems were limited to Noyes and weren’t likely to be symptoms of cheating city-wide.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson welcomed the findings, saying that the conclusions will remove the pall cast over the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System by allegations last year that widespread cheating was occurring in many district schools. Still, it was troubling to find out that the teacher accused of feeding answers to her students justified her actions as something that was implicitly encouraged by the school leaders.

“It is disappointing that a handful of staff would think so little of their profession and of their students that they would do anything to compromise results,” Henderson said. “We employ the best teachers in the world. I am proud of them day after day, but the staff implicated in this report do not represent what we stand for as a school system.”

Henderson ordered an investigation into Noyes after a USA Today’s allegations that standardized test cheating was a common occurrence in DC schools. In a multi-part series, USA Today said that a suspicious number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets from Washington D.C schools was a strong indicator that teachers were looking over their students’ work and making changes to improve their own evaluation scores or to hit a particular school-wide benchmark.

The investigation focused on Noyes in part because between 2006 and 2009, when the district was under the leadership of Michelle Rhee, its then-principal Wayne Ryan was hailed for dramatic increases in literacy proficiency among its students.

Ryan was promoted to a supervisory position after the 2009-10 school year. He resigned in 2011 without offering an explanation. Amid questions about cheating, Noyes’s test scores fell. From 2009 to 2011, math proficiency fell from 63 to 28 percent of students. Reading proficiency fell from 84 to 32 percent.