Wednesday morning testimony continued in the Atlanta Public School test cheating trial with a testing expert taking the stand and answering a number of questions including those concerning erasure analysis. Focus was on how standardized test are scanned to retrieve the scores, and if statistical data from testing machines can determined if cheating occurred.
On Tuesday, jurors got a chance to hear emotional testimony from both an APS student and her mother about the negative impact apparent changed test scores has had on them. Twelve former APS educators are on trial facing racketeering charges for their involvement in changing incorrect standardized test answers.
Parent Justina Collins may have waved the first red flag that something was going wrong several years before the state’s investigation into questionable test scores in the Atlanta Public School System. Her now 17 year daughter past the CRCT with flying colors at Cascade Elementary School in 2005. But the student had struggled academically in reading and math throughout that school year. Tuesday Collins told the jury that when she sought help from the school and the district for her daughter, who had been diagnosed with a learning disability, Collins was told that “the district has found nothing wrong”. In short the third grader was disqualified from receiving needed academic help because of her high performance on the CRCT.
Now a junior, the students told the jury Tuesday that she would be able to read and comprehend much better today, if she had received the help she needed years ago. Her former teacher also testified to the impossibility of her test results and the district’s “culture” of pressuring teachers to get scores up.
The APS “culture” remained a focus of the prosecution on Tuesday and former superintendent Beverly Hall’s name came up a number of times. Dr. Hall is the thirteenth defendant in this this trial and is absent due to stage IV breast cancer treatment. She is a key to the state’s case and will be tried separately. Other testimony heard on Tuesday, came from former school board member, Anne Harper, who spoke extensively about Hall’s style of leadership.
Atlanta Public Schools is not the first district to falling to test cheating scandals, but is certainly one of the largest. Across the country test cheating cases are surfacing in greater numbers. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a new survey reports that there are now 39 U.S. states and the District of Columbia with school districts reporting cases of standardized exam score manipulation.
As the Atlanta community watches this test cheating trial unfold, the question of how this happened may be answered, but understanding why this is such a pervasive problem may still be the real unknown.
Fair Test Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer said, “Unfortunately, Atlanta is just the tip of a test cheating iceberg. Across the country, strategies to boost scores without improving learning – including outright cheating, narrow teaching to the test and pushing out low-scoring students – have been widespread.”
Fair Test has found cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Columbus, Houston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. have used such practices as:
- Encourage teachers to view upcoming test forms before they are administered.
- Exclude likely low-scorers from enrolling in school.
- Drill students on actual upcoming test items.
- Use thumbs-up/thumbs-down signals to indicate right and wrong responses.
- Erase erroneous responses and insert correct ones.
- Report low-scorers as having been absent on testing day.
Schaeffer said the overuse and misuse of standardized exams have greatly contributed to the test cheating cases seen around the country.
“Stepped up enforcement will not solve the test-cheating problem. Instead, testing misuses must end because they cheat the public out of accurate data about public school quality at the same time they cheat many students out of a high-quality education,” said Schaeffer.
Parent Justina Collins was a reluctant state witness, feeling uneasy about speaking out about her concerns. As districts across Georgia and the nation begin to re-evaluate how they measure student success, more parents are seeking to better understand student testing, the results and how those results are used to enhance student education.
The Atlanta Public School trial is expected to continue for at least three months.