Saturday, March 30, 2013

Standardized Testing Gone Wild

The Big Stick Edition:

During his 35 years as a Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde has persuaded all sorts of criminals — corrupt judges, drug dealers, money launderers, racketeers — to turn state’s evidence, but until Jackie Parks, he had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher.

It worked. 

In the fall of 2010, Ms. Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, agreed to become Witness No. 1 for Mr. Hyde, in what would develop into the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory. 

Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde. 

In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.
Because in the grand pantheon of criminal activity (murder, rape, money laundering, Wall Street crimes, drug dealers, ad nauseum) I think we can all agree that nothing comes close to standardized test cheating. In fact, your average murderer or rapist in Georgia serves less time than the ringleader and kingpin of these test cheaters, Dr. Beverly "Eraserhead" Hall, is facing.
Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.

Paul L. Howard Jr., the district attorney, said that under Dr. Hall’s leadership, there was “a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat.”
“She is a full participant in that conspiracy,” he said. “Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree it took place.”
LOL. Because if anyone knows single-minded incompetence, it couldn't be Paul Howard, the most effective prosecutor in the history of Fulton County, or maybe ever (see also: Ray Lewis, Brian Nichols, and the "long list of blunders" he's racked up in his years in office).

Although, to be fair, since the Test Cheaters aren't murderers or rapists, maybe they might actually be convicted.
Reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state education officials repeatedly found strong indications of cheating — extraordinary increases in test scores from one year to the next, along with a high number of erasures on answering sheets from wrong to right.
But they were not able to find anyone who would confess to it. 

That is until August 2010, when Gov. Sonny Perdue named two special prosecutors — Michael Bowers, a Republican former attorney general, and Robert E. Wilson, a Democratic former district attorney — along with Mr. Hyde to conduct a criminal investigation.  
Gasp. After all, we are talking about the "worst of the worst" kinds of thugs here.
Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” the indictment said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.   

It is not just an Atlanta problem. Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals and schools. In El Paso, a superintendent went to prison recently after removing low-performing children from classes to improve the district’s test scores. In Ohio, state officials are investigating whether several urban districts intentionally listed low-performing students as having withdrawn even though they were still in school. 

But no state has come close to Georgia in appropriating the resources needed to root it out. And that is because of former Governor Perdue. 

“The more we were stonewalled, the more we wanted to know why,” he said in an interview. 
I'm sure the fact that all of those schools being investigated happen to be "urban districts," populated by African-American students and run by African-American educators, is just merely a coincidence. Because only the gravity of the crimes being committed here (erasure tampering) can explain why, in the summer of 2009, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had more than 25% of its total agents state-wide working the case. 

I think we can all rest assured that the tens of millions of dollars spent on this finally resulted in some indictments. For only then can the citizens of the state of Georgia truly feel safe knowing these "worst of the worst" elementary school teachers and principals (er, criminals) are behind bars.

Incidentally, the C.R.C.T., the state's laughingstock standardized test among the students, gears up in two weeks. Everyone lock your doors, get out your mace, and be very afraid.

The Test Cheaters are coming for you next.

UPDATE: I'm sleeping much better now: Dr. Beverly "Eraserhead" Hall and 34 members of the "Standardized Swords" street gang turned themselves in.

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