The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which in 2009 exposed widespread cheating on achievement tests in Atlanta Public Schools, reported earlier this year that 196 districts nationwide exhibit patterns of suspicious test scores similar to those found in Atlanta. The paper is reporting now that some of those districts have responded the same way Atlanta did: by minimizing, isolating or glossing over improprieties.
The Journal-Constitution said it reviewed about 130 files of cheating investigations in Mobile, Ala., Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis and East St. Louis, Ill. — all cities the newspaper identified as having, along with Atlanta, extreme concentrations of suspicious test scores.
In some cases, investigations uncovered wrongdoing and led to punishment for a handful of educators. In others, inquiries glossed over glaring irregularities. Nearly always, officials focused narrowly on a single classroom or, at most, a single school — the approach the Atlanta Public Schools used for years before a scandal over systemic cheating erupted three years ago.
In Mobile, middle-school students taking an achievement test in 2008 discovered that someone had changed their answers from a previous testing day, according to state files. They told the teacher, who told the principal. But according to the state’s report, the principal’s response was “sleep on it.” Two days later, the report says, the principal told the teacher that “we’re going to let the situation rest, and we need to keep quiet.”
Mobile Superintendent Martha Peek, who presides over the largest school district in Alabama, told the newspaper she’d rather have bad scores than illegitimate ones.
“We can fix academic problems,” she said. “You cannot fix problems with integrity.”
But Peek said she was unaware that, at roughly the same time as the cheating case unfolded at Scarborough Middle School, close to a dozen other Mobile schools posted test scores with inexplicable gains and decreases.
Investigating allegations of cheating remains a low priority in many states, despite high-profile scandals in Atlanta, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia and other school districts.