The Color of Cheating

Henry Wolff, American Renaissance, September 25, 2012

Pennsylvania cheating scandal follows a pattern.

A recent news story reported that standardized test scores dropped sharply in Pennsylvania after schools followed new measures to prevent cheating. The Philadelphia school district saw especially heavy declines. One school saw the percentage of students passing the math test fall by 71 points!

So far, no media reports have mentioned race at all, but the testing data—broken out by race and by school—are available here. An independent study by American Renaissance shows that the cheating problem is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. The scores of whites—except for the small number who attend Philadelphia schools—have hardly changed since the new measures to control cheating were implemented.

In Philadelphia, standardized test scores climbed steadily from 2002 to 2012, but there were reasons to think the gains were phony. A spot check by the Pennsylvania Department of Education found a suspicious number of test papers in which incorrect multiple-choice answers had been erased and the right answer chosen instead. This was strong evidence that teachers were correcting the tests after students handed them in.

Last year, test procedures were changed in Philadelphia and Hazelton: Teachers were not allowed to give the test to their own students, and in 11 schools the test papers were locked up until test time.

With no chance for teachers to doctor the answers, scores at some schools crashed. At Philadelphia Military Academy, 96 percent of 11th graders passed the math test in 2011 with a score of “advanced” or “proficient.” In 2012 only 25 percent passed–a decline of 71 points. The school is 65 percent black, 28 percent Hispanic, and just 5 percent white.

F. S. Edmonds Elementary school in northwest Philadelphia saw its pass rates fall by nearly 50 points in both reading and math. At Emlen Elementary School, also in northeast Philadelphia, there were drops of about 40 points in reading and math. Edmonds is 99 percent black; Emlen is 96 percent black.

There were other schools that had drops in the 20 to 30 point range, all of them heavily non-white schools in Philadelphia. The people who run these schools have clearly been cheating, and if state and city authorities have any backbone, people will be fired.

Our state-wide analysis shows that tightening up the test-scoring rules had a substantial effect on the pass rates for blacks and Hispanics, but not for whites or Asians. In math, for example, the white pass rate dropped less than a half percent—a figure entirely within the range of natural yearly fluctuation—while the black pass rate dropped nearly five percent (see graphs below). The white decline was concentrated in the Philadelphia school district, which has few white students, whereas black and Hispanic declines were state wide. There were similar drops in reading. It is safe to say that were it not for the altered tests of black and Hispanic students there would essentially be no cheating scandal at all.

Even worse from the schools’ point of view, sharp declines in black and Hispanic scores mean that the racial test-score gaps increased—the very result school administrators most fear. State wide, the gap in black-white pass rates for math grew from 25.7 points to 29.8 points and in reading from 27.6 to 31 points.

The cheating is worse in the lower grades, perhaps because it is easier to hide what is going on from the students and because any teacher can figure out the right answers. Our analysis of state-wide third-grade results shows bigger test-score declines for all races, with black pass rates in math dropping nearly 10 points, and whites rates dropping by 1.5 points.

This also meant growing black-white test-score gaps: from 23 points to 31.7 points in reading and from 25.2 point to 32.5 points in math. The holy grail of American education is narrowing the racial gaps; every tenth of a percent is cause for celebration. For the state-wide gap to grow by seven or eight points in a single year makes a mockery of the very attempt to close the gap.

In the city of Philadelphia, the declines were worse, but not all schools showed the spectacular evidence of cheating that turned up at such places as Edmonds, Emlen, and the “military academy.” As the two graphs below show, test score declines for whites were also relatively high: about half the black rate rather than the fifth or tenth we saw state wide.


Whites account for only about 15 percent of the public school students in Philadelphia. Their scores and those of Asians did not need to be adjusted upwards as much as those of blacks and Hispanics, but appear to have been caught up in the general scramble to raise scores.

Philadelphia is not the only city where teachers doctor test papers. Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Atlanta have all been rocked by scandals. In Atlanta, 178 teachers and principals at 44 schools were formally accused of cheating. Eighty-eight of them confessed.  Ten people were fired outright and 100 more were forced to resign or take early retirement.

This destroyed the reputation of Beverly Hall, who had been superintendent of schools in Atlanta from 1999 to 2010, and who was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009 because black students were doing miraculously well in her schools. She swanned off into retirement just a few days before a report on the cheating was released.

If city and state authorities had guts enough to investigate, they might well find cheating on the same scale in every urban, majority-non-white school system. The reason is obvious. In 2001, a deluded Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act that required all students to become at least “proficient” in reading and math. Even more absurdly, it required that all racial groups perform at the same level. Administrators of schools that do not make “adequate yearly progress” towards these goals face serious consequences, such as having their schools taken from them. Many states are now evaluating teachers and even deciding how much to pay them according to how students do on tests.

Obviously, schools with many black and Hispanic students cannot hope to meet these requirements. Principals and teachers see their careers threatened by insane laws that put the heaviest burdens on precisely the people who teach the black and Hispanic children whom the laws are supposed to help.

It would be hard to imagine a set of national academic requirements that better set the stage for a frank discussion of the genetics of intelligence and the reality of racial differences. That even scandals on the scale we are now seeing have failed to start such a discussion shows how deliberately blind to reality our country has become.

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Henry Wolff
Henry Wolff is the assistant editor of American Renaissance.
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