By Curt Yeomans
A high percentage of eraser marks on last year's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests at 11 Clayton County schools yielded no evidence of cheating, according to the consulting firm conducting a review of the situation.
Officials from the Acworth-based consulting firm, Education Planners, LLC, looked at Lewis Academy of Excellence, North Clayton Middle School, Mount Zion Primary School, and Fountain, Church Street, Pointe South, Thurgood Marshall, Northcutt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lake Ridge and E.W. Oliver elementary schools.
In February, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement placed Lewis Academy, and North Clayton, on its "Severe Concern" list, which contained schools that had 25 percent or more of classes flagged for high numbers of changed answers on last year's CRCTs. The remaining nine schools were classified by GOSA as "Moderate Concern" schools, with between 10 percent and 24.9 percent of classes flagged.
Investigators looking into the matter reviewed the GOSA's erasure analysis released earlier this year, and conducted interviews with school principals, testing coordinators and teachers about test preparation, test-day procedures, and post-test activities, Education Planners Senior Vice President Donya Edler told school board members on Monday.
"There was no supporting evidence of cheating, and it's our conclusion that it did not take place," Edler said. "It could have taken place after hours, by those people who had access to the tests, but we found no evidence of that."
Education Planners officials recommend that the school system take steps to prevent cheating, however, by eliminating the practice of testing coordinators, or teachers, "cleaning up" stray marks on answer sheets, and having teachers provide consistent test-taking strategies and advice to students.
"We found that there was much inconsistency, even within a school, from one classroom, to the next, about how to prepare for the test," Edler said. "Some teachers would tell their students they could go back and erase their answers, and change them if they had time after they finished the test. Others told their students their first guess is usually the best guess."
Investigators also urged a deeper inquiry into Lewis Academy, because the number of classes with higher-than-normal answer changes was more than twice that of the other schools examined. At Lewis Academy, 56.9 percent of the school's classes were flagged, while the school with the next highest percentage, North Clayton, saw only 26.3 percent of its classes flagged.
Lewis Academy's Principal, Zandra Perrymon, acted as the school's testing coordinator last year, according to Elder, and Education Planners President James Wilson. "That's a pretty unusual thing to see," Wilson said.
On Tuesday, Lewis Academy Chief Executive Officer Patricia Lewis said Perrymon only acted as the testing coordinator last year because the school did not have anyone else to serve in that capacity. "We were understaffed last year, so the principal was the testing coordinator," Lewis said. "She did not serve in that role this year. We now have our curriculum specialist [Tanisha Lewis, no relation to Patricia Lewis] acting as our testing coordinator."
Lewis also said the school completely abandoned the practice of cleaning up tests and answer sheets this year, and students were encouraged to go with their first choice for an answer, to avoid the chance of the school being flagged again for possible cheating. "We wouldn't want to do it, we shouldn't do it, and we didn't do it," Lewis said.
Additionally, representatives from the Georgia Department of Education and Clayton County Public Schools, were at the school every day the CRCT was administered this year, Lewis Academy's chief executive officer said.
Lewis said the school has nothing to hide, if a further investigation is conducted. "They are not going to find anything," she said.
Among "Moderate Concern" schools with higher percentages of flagged classes were: Oliver Elementary School (23.1 percent), Lake Ridge Elementary School (21.6 percent), Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School (20 percent), Northcutt Elementary (19.8 percent), and Thurgood Marshall Elementary School (17.9 percent).
At the lower end of the "Moderate Concerns" spectrum, were Pointe South Elementary School (11.8 percent), Church Street Elementary School (11.7 percent), Mount Zion Primary School (11.7 percent), and Fountain Elementary School (10.7 percent).
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley defended his schools on Monday, by arguing that, while state officials raised concerns about some schools, some -- including one of those flagged -- have consistently been among the state's best.
"Since they began awarding AYP [Annual Yearly Progress] in Georgia, only 10 schools have made it every year, and two of those schools are right here in Clayton County [Church Street and Morrow elementary schools], so we welcome any type of investigation," the superintendent said.