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IG report: No widespread school-test cheating in D.C.

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A long-awaited report by the D.C. office of the inspector general says investigators found no evidence of widespread cheating among city public school students from 2008 to 2010, despite alarming testimony that some teachers at Noyes Education Campus in Northeast pointed out incorrect responses on standardized tests until students filled in the right answers.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson requested the probe last year after a widely read USA Today report questioned student improvement on the annual D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) because of an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasure marks, particularly at Noyes. The newspaper's investigation cast doubt on highly touted gains under the tenure of polarizing former Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, whom former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty tapped during his term to turn around the city's perennially troubled public school system.

"The OIG's report confirms what we have long suspected — the vast majority of our staff did nothing wrong; our gains and our losses are real and no longer tainted by false allegations," Ms. Henderson said.

The investigation cast a bright light on testing security within the District and prompted officials to openly share the results of test security investigations in subsequent years. For months, Ms. Henderson had to deflect questions about the probe because of a "firewall" between her agency and the inspector general, whose office was assisted by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report can be read as an overall boon for the public school system after the long period of speculation, even if the probe found security lacking at times and at least one teacher at Noyes openly admitted to helping students fill in the correct bubbles on their answer sheets.

"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," Ms. Henderson said.

At least one Noyes teacher said the test coordinator wanted students arranged in order of their testing abilities, so those most in need of assistance would be outside testing monitors' sight lines, according to the report.

"Teacher 1 said that if the student did not then select the correct answer, he/she continued to point at the question until the student filled in the correct answer (The teacher) said that the students seemed to understand what to do even though all of these actions were non-verbal," the report said.

Other teachers and exam proctors at Noyes denied such claims, although accounts suggested another teacher looked over students' shoulders during testing. Three teachers said the test coordinator provided them advance copies of the exam so they could devise practice questions for students, although it is unclear whether they were explicitly told to share information from the booklet with students.

The test coordinator denied sharing the booklets with any teachers, and the Noyes principal denied having any knowledge of teachers getting a sneak peek at the tests.

The report says the teacher who openly admitted to helping students has been fired, but it is unclear whether any current personnel at Noyes will face sanctions or termination as a result of the inspector general's findings.

"We just received the report today and are still investigating that question," DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said.

DCPS hired the Caveon firm to review erasure rates and security protocols after testing in the 2008-2009 school year, yet was unable to find much evidence of underhanded efforts to boost test scores. Ms. Rhee suggested many students were on the cusp of advancing from "basic" to "proficient," meaning a few correct answers could make a difference in the overall results, according to the report.

The inspector general's office found "insufficient basis" to examine other schools in the same depth as Noyes, based on its initial review and investigative efforts by DCPS and the office of the state superintendent of education.

Among its recommendations, the inspector general's office said test booklets should not be delivered to schools until the day of the exam, booklets should be stored off-site in between test days and the school system should beef up overall security through additional proctors and more detailed instruction.

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