Accountability Cheating District of Columbia Education Reform Michelle Rhee Standardized Testing Teacher Evaluations

Richard P. Phelps Looks Back on D.C. Reform, Part 2

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Richard P. Phelps was hired by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to oversee testing, which was a crucial element in her plans to “reform” the district and raise test scores. During his time there, outsiders raised questions about whether there was widespread cheating on tests.

Phelps addresses those questions in this post.

He begins:

Ten years ago, I worked as the director of assessments for DCPS. For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as chancellor.

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average U.S. school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons:

–in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

–test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time;

–after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

–after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven.

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.

Phelps’ articles were originally published at the Nonpartisan Education Review. They were reposted on Valerie Jablow’s blog.

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