further analysis of the USA Today allegations of cheating in DCPS

Today I obtained a list of the DCPS schools that were flagged for erasures in 2008, 2009, and 2010. You can view them here. I love to play with numbers, so let’s take a look at how these schools break down into wards.

There are eight wards in the District of Columbia. Wards 2 and 3 are the most affluent and thus least likely to have struggling schools. Wards 7 and 8 are the least affluent and most likely to have struggling schools (though there is no shortage of poverty and bad schools in wards 1, 4, and 5 either). Ward 6 is kind of a hybrid that has some poverty and some affluence.

 In 2008, the wards accounted for the following percentages of flagged schools:

Ward 1: 11%

Ward 2: 6%

Ward 3: 4%

Ward 4: 19%

Ward 5: 11%

Ward 6: 11%

Ward 7: 18%

Ward 8: 20%

While Wards 2 and 3 have the least and Wards 4, 7, and 8 have the most, this is actually a pretty good spread across the city. There were a total of 85 schools flagged in 2008 (quite a high number considering that there are fewer than 130 schools in DCPS, though at that time there were more).

Let’s look at the numbers for 2008 again, this time only paying attention to schools where 50% or more of the classrooms were flagged (19 schools total):

Ward 1: 11%

Ward 2: 0%

Ward 3: 4%

Ward 4: 26%

Ward 5: 16%

Ward 6: 11%

Ward 7: 16%

Ward 8: 16%

Those results are pretty similar.  

It’s important to note (and USA Today failed to do so) that the number of flagged schools dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009 – the number fell from 85 to 43. Here’s the geographic distribution of those 43 schools (with any flagged classrooms):

Ward 1: 12%

Ward 2: 0%

Ward 3: 2%

Ward 4: 19%

Ward 5: 7%

Ward 6: 9%

Ward 7: 28%

Ward 8: 23%

Again, Wards 4, 7, and 8 have the most. The same is true when filtering for schools with 50% or more flagged classrooms in 2009. There were only 9 of those schools, so it makes more sense to show the raw numbers rather than percentages:

Ward 1: 1

Ward 2: 0

Ward 3: 0

Ward 4: 2

Ward 5: 1

Ward 6: 1

Ward 7: 3

Ward 8: 1

In 2010, the total number of flagged schools dropped from 43 to 40 with an overall distribution as follows:

Ward 1: 8%

Ward 2: 0%

Ward 3: 0%

Ward 4: 18%

Ward 5: 10%

Ward 6: 13%

Ward 7: 33%

Ward 8: 18%

Only two schools had 50% or more of their classrooms flagged: one in ward 5 and one in ward 6. So, despite the fact that ward 7 increased its share of flagged schools in the overall count, none of the 13 flagged schools in that area of the city had more than 50% of their classrooms flagged.

It’s hard to draw firm conclusions about what these numbers mean. There are schools that appear consistently on the lists, and those should certainly be investigated. However, the fact that the number of flagged schools decreased so precipitously from 2008 to 2009 is encouraging, even if we don’t know why that happened. I am not particularly impressed with Michelle Rhee’s responses to this situation thus far, so I’m not going to defend her here; I’ll just say that I don’t think there’s a lot to support the claim that the pressure she placed on principals to raise test scores resulted in systematic cheating all over the city; if anything, these numbers indicate that the opposite happened. I wish we could see figures for 2007 (the year before Rhee entered as Chancellor) and that we could also see a timeline of leadership for each flagged school; it would be interesting to see if there was a correlation between a change of leadership and the beginning of cheating. The decreasing number of schools also doesn’t support the claim that the pay-for-performance system now in place under IMPACT has resulted in cheating; 2010 was the first year that IMPACT existed, and that had the fewest number of flagged schools out of the three years in the study and the fewest number of schools with over 50% of the classrooms flagged – only two!

I do think, sadly, that the erasures do suggest that cheating happened. But I am encouraged by taking a closer look at the numbers. The smaller number of classrooms involved in 2010 suggests that teachers or other individuals are acting alone in the cheating, and that gives me hope that this is a problem more easily fixed than one in which leadership was actually ordering teachers to cheat.

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About educationescritora

I'm a former high school Spanish teacher and central office employee. I believe that excellent public education will be a catalyst for positive social change in our country and that we cannot wait any longer to deliver the teachers, knowledge, and skills that our students need.
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