Here at JTF, we've been very quick to point out instances of cheating, either isolated, or systemic, as a quick search of our archives or twitter feeds will show. As public education is driven ever more into corporate types of management and measurement, coupled with high stakes tied to test scores, it should surprise no one that corporate types of behavior emerge - think Enron, Arthur Anderson, World Com, MF Global Holdings.
It is with that backdrop we turn to an investigative piece by the Dayton Daily News (DDN) in conjunction with the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), titled "Suspect test scores found across Ohio schools".
The analysis does not prove cheating has occurred in Ohio. But interviews and documents show that state officials do not employ vigorous statistical analyses to catch possible cheating, discipline only about a dozen teachers a year and direct Ohio’s test vendor to spend just $17,540 on analyzing suspicious scores out of its $39 million annual testing contract.
It's a weak piece that could be used and sensationalized by many, and the paper has come under almost instant withering criticism for it's approach.
In short, here are some of my concerns about the methods:
- As noted, the analysis is based on school-level data and not individual student-level data. Accordingly, it was not possible to ensure that the same students were in the group in both years.
- The analysis of irregular jumps in test scores should have been coupled with irregularities in erasure data where this data was available.
- The analysis by Cox generates predicted values for schools, but this does not incorporate demographic characteristics of the student population.
- The limited details available on the study methods made it impossible to replicate and verify what the journalists were doing. Further, the rationale was unclear for some of the steps they took.
He wasn't the only expert to consider the DDN findings. Stephen Dyer, former newspaper reporter, architect of Ohio's prematurely abandoned evidence based model, and think tank fellow had this to say, after discussing similar analytical shortcomings as pointed out above
As a former reporter, I can say these issues would invariably pop up before big stories ran. Sometimes, it means delaying your story for a day or two, or in a few cases, never run them at all. As a journalist, you, as a general rule, cannot spend any time in your story defending your story. If you have to, it means you don't have it nailed down yet; it needs more time in the oven.
The DDN spend almost the entirety of their story defending their story.
Greg Mild, over at Plunderbund has an even harsher response, and points out some great absurdities of the DDN analysis
We continue to believe that cheating is totally unacceptable and ought to be exposed when and where found, but the Dayton Daily News story, as they point out themselves, does not come close to demonstrating what they seem to want to sensationalize - widespread cheating, Atlanta style.
As we begin to rely more and more upon student test scores to measure schools and teachers, suspicions are going to grow, a few might be borne out, but many will be baseless - but each accusation serves to undermine public education and people's trust in it. It's another unintended failing of the corporate education reform schemes we're currently pursuing.