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BOE chairwoman: Clayton schools not cheating

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson said she has every confidence that teachers and administrators in the Clayton County Public School System are not cheating on a state test -- even as state officials raised concerns about answer changes at some schools.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement released a report on wrong-to-right answer changes on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) on Wednesday. The data shows 80 percent of elementary and middle schools in Clayton County fall into areas of little-to-no concern. Seven schools, however, each saw 17 percent or more of their classes flagged for high numbers of answer changes.

The percentages of classes flagged at two of those schools were so high, GOSA placed them on its "Severe Concern" list. Anderson said she believes no schools in Clayton County are cheating by changing student answers, however.

"Until we [the school board] have proof that any schools were cheating, we have confidence in our administrators, and our teachers, that they are going to do what's right," Anderson said. "We were last at one time, and we will be on top in the future, and we will not have to cheat to get there."

The CRCT is the standardized test used by the Georgia Department of Education to determine if a school meets academic requirements for making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is a symbol of school excellence under the federal government's No Child Left Behind law.

The release of GOSA's report on CRCT answer changes comes less than a year after administrators at a handful of Georgia schools were accused of changing student answers on last year's CRCT. None of those schools are in Clayton County.

"We're not responsible for what other counties do," Anderson said. "We, as a school system, have not been accused of cheating on the test."

Officials at GOSA reviewed student answer sheets from last year's CRCT, to see how often wrong answers were erased, and changed to correct responses. Every elementary and middle school that administered the CRCT last year was reviewed. The statewide review focused on responses to the reading, English/language arts and mathematics sections of the test.

Schools were separated into "No Concern," "Minor Concern," "Moderate Concern," and "Severe Concern" lists, based on the percentage of classes flagged for high numbers of answer changes. Classes were flagged if their number of changed answers in the class was three standard deviations, or more, above the state average for that grade level and subject.

Officials from GOSA stopped short of accusing teachers of changing the answers, however. "Without additional layers added to the analysis, this kind of check only addresses the possibility, not the certainty, of teachers or administrators altering the responses of students," according to GOSA's report.

Locally, 52 Clayton County schools were reviewed. Lewis Academy of Excellence and North Clayton Middle School were placed on GOSA's "Severe Concern" list. Schools where more than 25 percent of classes were flagged for high numbers of answer changes made that list. At Lewis Academy, 56.9 percent of its classes were flagged. At North Clayton, 26.3 percent of that school's classes were flagged.

Another eight schools were put on the "Moderate Concern" list because the percentage of classes flagged at each school fell between 11 percent, and 24.9 percent. Five of those schools had flagged-class percentages of nearly 18 percent, or more.

Those schools are:

* Thurgood Marshall Elementary School (17.9 percent of classes were flagged);

* Northcutt Elementary School (19.8 percent of classes flagged);

* Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School (20 percent of classes flagged);

* Lake Ridge Elementary School (21.6 percent of classes flagged),

* Oliver Elementary School (23.1 percent of classes flagged).

The other three schools on the "Moderate Concern" list had significantly lower percentages of classes that were flagged.

Anderson said it is not unreasonable to expect students to change their answers on a test. She suggested, though, that schools do more "how-to" test-preparation work with students before the CRCTs.

"All those students probably need is a little more practice on how to take a test, and how to fill in the bubbles on an answer sheet, so they won't have to change their answers, and the state won't have to come in and look at us," Anderson said.

She also said the board will ask Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley what happened at the schools with higher percentages of classes flagged by GOSA.

Shortly after the report was released on Wednesday, Clayton school officials released a statement, saying they would fully cooperate with officials from GOSA, and the Georgia Department on Education, to investigate the answer changes.

As part of the report's recommendations, Superintendent Heatley will have to conduct an investigation of both Lewis Academy and North Clayton, and submit the results to GOSA.

Teachers will also have to be rotated at "Moderate Concern" and "Severe Concern" schools, during the administration of this year's CRCT, so the educators are not working with their own students. State officials will also be sent to these schools to monitor the administration of the test.

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On the Net:

Governor's Office of Student Achievement: http://www.gaosa.org/