"Erase to the Top" — The Michelle Rhee Test Score Scandal in Seussical Verse
A creative public school teacher gives the extensively-researched USA Today investigative piece on altered test scores under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee the rhyming Dr. Seuss treatment.
Test results in several “star” DC public schools were flagged for review by the statistical anomaly of so many erased and changed-to-correct answers. The McGraw-Hill testing company conducted its own investigation into the integrity of its tests administered to schoolchildren around the nation while the current DCPS Chancellor, Kaya Henderson, conducts a parallel investigation into the administrators at the schools where the test results were likely changed.
Numerous other news outlets have given the story a great deal of attention.
One of the few education researchers to criticize Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, Diane Ravitch, blasted the likely alteration of test scores by saying:
Her celebrity is not built on her success in D.C., however, which now appears to be a chimera.
Her celebrity results from the fact that she has emerged as the national spokesman for the effort to subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice. All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.
This formula, which will be a tragedy for our nation and for an entire generation of children, is now immensely popular in the states and the Congress. Most governors embrace it. The big foundations endorse it. The think tanks of D.C., right-wing and left-wing, support it. Rhee helped to make it fashionable. If she doesn’t pause to consider the damage she is doing, shame on her. If our policymakers don’t stop to reflect on the damage they are doing to public education and to any concept of a good education, then our nation is in deep trouble.
In Michigan, a similar scandal earlier in March, 2011, erupted when 30+ schools in the Detroit area were found to have similarly unbelievable leaps in student standardized test score results.
The Detroit Free Press and USA Today examined scores from a three to seven-year span and focused on schools that posted test score gains higher than 99.9 percent of their peers around the state. They found that between 2008 and 2009, 34 Michigan schools—32 of which are in metro Detroit—posted gains that were too good to be true, which suggest that cheating of some kind may have taken place. At Crofoot Elementary School, which in 2006 was cited for cheating on standardized tests, state officials found that in 2003, fourth graders were 39 percent proficient in math. By the very next year fourth graders were 87 percent proficient, and by 2005 they were 100 percent proficient.
The newspapers examined changes between years in test scores and the investigation found similar questionable test score improvements in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Ohio.
Many have concluded: live by the high stakes test, die by the high stakes test. If standardized test scores become the sole measure of student success and teacher performance, then you introduce an incentive into the system that corrupts administrators as well as distorts student achievement.