Monitors came, TAKS scores plummeted; Houston-area school previously was cleared of cheating by state

Does Forest Brook High School have a TAKS cheating problem? It depends whom you believe. But new evidence points to yes.

Despite highly suspicious test scores, a February report by the Texas Education Agency declared the Houston school cheating-free – largely because school officials, when asked, said they were unaware of any wrongdoing on their campus.

But last month, a Dallas Morning News statistical analysis found that Forest Brook had one of the worst cheating problems in Texas. Looking at two years of scores, the analysis found more than 350 TAKS answer sheets had answer patterns that were suspiciously similar – in some cases identical – to those of at least one classmate.

Now, newly released test scores give further support to the idea. This spring, the state required outside monitors to oversee TAKS testing at Forest Brook. They watched over every stage of the testing process in an attempt to prevent any potential misdeeds.

The result? Under outside scrutiny, the school’s scores collapsed.

Faking the Grade: Efforts to stop cheating often fall short; More emphasis has been placed on TAKS, not on catching copiers

By Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker Staff Writers Page 1A Last of three parts In 1975, a social scientist named Donald Campbell came up with the idea that would eventually be called Campbell’s Law. He wrote like an academic, but you could boil the concept down to this: The higher the stakes, the more … Continue reading Faking the Grade: Efforts to stop cheating often fall short; More emphasis has been placed on TAKS, not on catching copiers

Faking the Grade: At charters, cheating’s off the charts; Loosely regulated schools among state’s worst offenders on TAKS

By Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker Staff Writers Page 1A Second of three parts Last year, 53 sophomores took the math TAKS test at Houston’s Jesse Jackson Academy. Two stood out from the crowd. They were the only two whose answer sheets don’t show evidence of cheating. Jackson – a Houston charter school with … Continue reading Faking the Grade: At charters, cheating’s off the charts; Loosely regulated schools among state’s worst offenders on TAKS

W-H official cited in inquiry; Ex-principal’s lawyer denies wrongdoing in TAKS cheating scandal

The investigation into TAKS cheating in Wilmer-Hutchins schools is moving up the district’s chain of command.

Jatis McCollister, the former principal of Alta Mesa Elementary, knew that cheating was going on and that the school’s high test scores were unearned, according to a complaint filed by officials in a state administrative court on Friday.

She is the first administrator in the defunct school district to be targeted, but she may not be the last. State officials said that a number of other district and campus officials could face sanction hearings before a state judge in the coming months, both for TAKS cheating and falsifying attendance data to generate more money from the state.

“If you take on the role of being the leader of a campus, that comes with responsibilities,” said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman.

“It’s your duty to ensure there isn’t this sort of wrongdoing on your campus.”

Ms. McCollister’s attorney, Daniel Ortiz, said she was innocent of all claims in the complaint.

“Ms. McCollister is a longtime Texas educator who enjoys an outstanding record,” he said. “She’s done nothing wrong.”

An earlier state investigation found that 22 Wilmer-Hutchins teachers and other staff members had changed student answers, distributed answer keys and otherwise helped give test scores a false boost on the 2004 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Cheating inquiry clears 592 schools; State’s use of campus self-reporting in TAKS investigation questioned

Nearly 600 Texas public schools have been cleared of suspicions of cheating, state officials said Thursday, leaving 105 other schools still under investigation.

Texas Education Agency officials cited the clearing of 592 schools as evidence of the integrity of the state’s influential testing system.

“It is imperative that Texans trust our test results and have confidence that they are valid and reliable,” Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said in a prepared statement.

But some question the thoroughness of the agency’s investigation, which relied heavily on self-reported questionnaires filled out by school officials a year and a half after the 2005 tests in question.

“I don’t know how accurate a set of responses you’re going to get from sending people a questionnaire,” said Jason Stephens, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who studies cheating. “That might be expedient, but if there is something going on, nobody’s going to go out and admit that.”

The investigation stems from a report produced in May by Caveon, a test-security firm. It analyzed schools’ scores on the 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and tried to determine which schools had unusual patterns that could suggest cheating.

The report flagged 700 schools for a variety of reasons, including scores that jumped too quickly, answer sheets with too many erasures and students whose answer patterns suggested they might have copied off a classmate.

Cheating hasn’t hurt teachers; Exclusive: Accused WHISD educators hired in other schools

On May 12, 2005, Texas education commissioner Shirley Neeley stood in the Wilmer-Hutchins school board chambers and announced the results of her agency’s investigation into cheating on the TAKS test.

“Twenty-two WHISD teachers were found guilty of cheating,” she said. “The investigation found inexcusable, illegal, unprofessional and unacceptable behavior on the part of these 22 individuals.”

Shortly after, the Wilmer-Hutchins schools were all shut down. But the careers of the teachers lived on.

At least 10 of the 22 Wilmer-Hutchins educators are now working in other North Texas public schools, a Dallas Morning News investigation found. None has faced official sanction, more than 2 1/2 years after the cheating took place.

Most were able to find new jobs weeks after Dr. Neeley’s statements.

They were able to do so in part because the body responsible for disciplinary actions against teachers, the State Board for Educator Certification, has been slow to act on the cases. The agency has a notorious backlog and a reputation for letting cases lie dormant, sometimes for more than two years.

In addition, state officials chose not to use their normal method to inform school districts of the findings of their investigation. Several of the school districts that now employ the teachers said they were unaware of the findings until informed by The News.

“I am absolutely dumbfounded,” said Lou Blanchard, director of the Treetops School International, a charter school in Euless. When her school hired a teacher named Betty Houston, Dr. Blanchard had no idea she was one of the teachers state investigators implicated in Wilmer-Hutchins.

Cheating: It’s in the numbers; Formulas can provide powerful evidence of misconduct on exams

It’s the sort of case you might expect Encyclopedia Brown to tackle.

Two kids seem to have cheated on Professor Harpp’s final exam. Can he prove the culprits did it – before it’s too late?

But when McGill University professor David Harpp suspected some of his students were up to no good, he didn’t hire a boy detective for a shiny new quarter. He did the job himself.

He devised a statistical method to determine whether two students were copying test answers from each other. He found that, on a 98-question multiple-choice test, the pair of students had 97 answers exactly the same – including 23 wrong answers.

Confronted with the evidence, the students confessed.

To the untrained observer, it may seem strange that cheating can be reliably detected with statistics, formulas and math, as Texas officials have hired an outside firm to do. But decades of research around the world have produced methods that prove quite effective at smoking out cheaters in ways even the best proctors often can’t.

TEA may ax test analyzer; Agency doubts level of TAKS cheating; evaluator defends data

By Joshua Benton Staff Writer Page 1A The Texas Education Agency is leaning toward severing ties with the company it hired to look for cheating on the TAKS test, in part because the results have generated negative publicity for the state. The agency also has some concerns about some methods used by the company, Caveon, … Continue reading TEA may ax test analyzer; Agency doubts level of TAKS cheating; evaluator defends data

TEA adds 241 schools with suspect scores; Campuses not likely to be part of inquiry into possible TAKS cheating

Texas officials have released the names of 241 more schools with suspicious patterns in their test scores. But none are likely to be targeted in the upcoming round of state investigations into possible cheating.

The new list, released Friday, brings the total number of schools with suspicious scores to 699. That’s almost one-tenth of all the Texas schools that administered the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in 2005.

Earlier, the Texas Education Agency had released the names of only 442 schools that had at least one classroom with suspicious scores.

But Caveon – the test-security company the TEA hired to look for cheaters – also looked for schools that had suspicious score patterns schoolwide. Because of differences in the ways Caveon analyzed the scores, some schools were flagged as suspicious schoolwide without raising red flags in any specific classroom.

The TEA had not asked Caveon for the schoolwide list until The Dallas Morning News revealed its existence three weeks ago.

“We wanted to be able to look at all the schools as we think about how to move forward,” spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said.

TAKS inquiry gets a boost; TEA adds investigators and task force for cheating probe

Calling the prevention of cheating “our highest priority,” the Texas Education Agency is tripling its number of investigators and preparing inquiries of the schools where test scores are the most suspicious.

The agency will also create an independent task force to oversee the investigations, which will begin in September. But it’s still unknown how many schools will be investigated.

“The Texas Education Agency is taking this matter very seriously,” Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley wrote in a letter to all district superintendents Friday.

The moves are in response to a report released in May by Caveon, a Utah test-security firm. TEA hired Caveon to analyze scores on the 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and determine if any students or educators were cheating.

Caveon flagged more than 600 schools for a variety of suspect test patterns: students who seemed to get too smart too fast, score sheets with too many erasures or classrooms where too many students had suspiciously similar answers.

“I think we have to restore the public’s faith in our testing system,” Dr. Neeley said in an interview.