San Antonio Express-News
Cynicism is the predominant reaction to the news that Texas schools cheat on high stakes tests.
An analysis of student answer sheets from the spring 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills found evidence of "irregularities" (commonly known as "cheating") in 702 of the state's public school classrooms.
Not that anybody cares.
The months-long analysis was conducted by Caveon, a first-class, Utah-based firm that specializes in test security.
Not that anyone is impressed.
The expert analysts found testing irregularities in 609 of the state's 7,112 public schools.
Not that this caused any concern in Austin.
The yawning response to the findings was pretty well summed up by the low-key headline on the Associated Press report of the Caveon analysis buried on Page 5B of last Wednesday's Express-News: "Unusual results on TAKS raise suspicions; State officials dispute that the findings are evidence of cheating."
In an official "Response to the Caveon Report" released by the Texas Education Agency last week, the state's highest education muck-a-mucks advised:
"Caution is warranted about how much action should be considered based on this single report."
Translation for readers who aren't familiar with the education establishment's eternal, see-no-evil response to reports of standardized-test cheating:
"We will read it, file it and hope everybody soon forgets it."
Get used to it, ladies and gents. Cheating will forever be tolerated in Texas public schools. And any official response will be accompanied by winks and nods that cheaters will easily understand as permission to continue their "irregular" ways.
(If you're curious about what falls under the heading of "irregular," the analysts made their judgments on the basis of (a) similar student test responses, (b) unusually high increases in scores, (c) multiple marks or erasures and (d) aberrant response patterns.)
The establishment's current wink-and-nod leader, Commissioner of Education Shirley J. Neeley, downplayed the latest cheating numbers and, quite incredibly, used the release of the Caveon report to pooh-pooh previous similar findings by a Dallas Morning News investigation.
Neeley: "Last year, one newspaper accused 400 schools of having suspicious scores and essentially placing (sic) a scarlet 'C' for cheating on the schools. Ultimately, wrongdoing was found at only a handful of those schools, but the damage to their reputation was done."
What Commissioner Neeley conveniently failed to mention: The schools with "suspicious scores" were not cleared of wrongdoing by any outside, independent and objective investigators, but by officials within the "suspicious" districts who faced negative consequences if they confirmed the cheating!
Now a year later, an outside, independent and objective study by a highly qualified test-security firm has found ... not 400 schools ... not 500 schools ... but 609 schools in which cheating likely occurred. And what is Neeley's response?
She throws an evil-newspaper red herring into the analytical mix, knowing that the more confusion she creates the quicker the Caveon report will be forgotten.
And if that isn't enough to ruin your Memorial Day weekend, lambkins, put this in your taxpayer pipe and smoke it ...
From Page 19 of the Caveon report:
"Because the tests of hypotheses in the analysis of schools and classrooms are very conservative, it is possible that testing irregularities in a few schools and classrooms have not been identified in this report."
Translation: 609 schools and 702 classrooms are MINIMUM numbers.
Caveon nailed only the classrooms where flagrant cheating occurred. Subtle cheating flew under the analytical radar.
Not that any of this matters.
I saved my favorite wink-and-nod dodge for last:
In their response to the Caveon report, Texas Education Agency officials said that if a school is identified as having statistical test "anomalies" and is also named in an "irregularity report" from some other source, the double black eye "might warrant further investigation."
Boy, that should scare the bejabbers out of the state's sneering, snickering cheats.