In Georgia, Test-Answer Erasures Triggered Criminal Probe

Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, USA Today, March 28, 2011

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Fifty agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, began in October 2010 to question teachers and principals at 58 Atlanta schools where there were statistically significant rates of wrong answers changed to right ones on students’ answer sheets. The agents are conducting one-on-one private interviews with educators. It is a felony in Georgia to lie to a law enforcement officer.

In Washington, questioning has been done by Caveon, a Utah company whose specialty is data analysis. D.C. officials and occasionally principals have sat in on interviews with individual teachers, Caveon executive John Fremer told USA TODAY, and educators were not asked explicitly whether they cheated.

Former governor Sonny Perdue, a Republican whose term ended in January, ordered law enforcement to take over the Georgia investigation because he said he was dissatisfied with the failure of districts in Atlanta and elsewhere to explain the erasures. He denounced an earlier inquiry done by a 15-member commission in Atlanta, with Caveon’s assistance, as “woefully inadequate both in scope and depth.” It had focused on only 12 schools, and in many places investigators had interviewed only a small percentage of the faculty.

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Only 4% of Georgia’s schools were considered of “severe concern” after the 2009 tests, Mathers said. In contrast, more than 15% of D.C.’s public schools had so many classrooms flagged in 2008 that they would have raised “severe concern,” but none was investigated that year.

In deciding where to investigate in 2009, D.C. school officials considered other factors besides erasure rates, including gains or losses in student scores. Mathers said Georgia concentrated on erasure rates because her office had little confidence that the baseline test scores were legitimate.

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The U.S. Justice Department last fall began investigating whether Atlanta schools may have committed fraud, the Journal-Constitution reported. A grand jury was examining whether Atlanta schools had qualified for additional federal money by inflating scores.

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