Bistate Fallout from Cheating; Telltale Scores; Crackdown Is Likely Reason That Passing Rates at St. Louis' Herzog Elementary Fell off This Year

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS - Just a year ago, results on state tests for reading and math showed Herzog elementary school students outperforming their peers at other schools in the St. Louis district.

Those passing rates on tests plummeted this year, according to data made public this week by state education officials. The likely factor: a crackdown on cheating.

The school was one of at least three where administrators investigated cheating allegations in 2011. Following the inquiries, two employees at Herzog are no longer with the district.

Superintendent Kelvin Adams stepped up efforts to ensure the results were valid during testing in the spring, hiring an oversight coordinator for those schools, as well as placing a member of the district accountability staff at the schools each day during testing. It came at a time when the school district was under intense pressure to perform, and fighting for reaccreditation.

Adams said problems in 2011 are not indicative of the entire district.

"I don't think you can identify the whole district as having a quote-unquote cheating problem when it was targeted at a couple of schools," he said.

He said the district went the extra mile to weed out problems by adding the test monitors and "checking almost everything."

"I think it says to the community that the results, the progress, were accurate, 99.9 percent of the time," he said. "Were there issues in a couple of schools? I'll be the first to tell you yes."

Those issues appear to have had bearing on the test results at Herzog and at least one other school.

According to data from the Missouri Assessment Program tests, the portion of students scoring proficient or advanced in math at Herzog dropped from 43 percent in 2011 to about 8 percent this year. In communications arts, the pass rate fell from 47 percent to less than 10 percent.

Two other schools also had reports of potential test fraud in 2011 - Patrick Henry Downtown Academy and Ford Elementary School. Investigators have dismissed reports of cheating at Patrick Henry and Ford as claims made by "disgruntled" employees.

But the 2012 results also show severe declines at Ford Elementary, where scores went from 38 percent passing in communications arts to 10 percent; math scores went from 40 percent passing to 14 percent.

The number of students passing at Patrick Henry in communication arts and math had less dramatic changes - from about 16 percent to 12 percent in communication arts and from about 12 percent to 13 percent in math.

Overall, the results of the latest round of testing were good for the unaccredited district - it gained an academic point in its annual performance report released on Monday. That could position the district for provisional accreditation, but the final decision is up to the state.

The school district gained its accreditation point for results on Algebra I end-of-course exams. Adams pointed out that the 2011 cheating allegations occurred at elementary schools.

To investigate test fraud, Missouri relies exclusively on a self- reporting system that asks teachers and administrators to flag possible abuse.

In St. Louis, such reports in 2011 ultimately led investigators to recommend that Martine McGull, Herzog's teaching learning facilitator, be removed and that reading specialist Laronda Johns- Campbell not participate in school testing for one year. …

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