Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello at USA Today have produced a piece of investigative journalism that is sure to win them awards for education reporting (unless Bill Gates and Eli Broad are paying for the trophies at EWA).
In looking at every angle of a long-ignored story to ferret out the facts in a testing scandal that was kept under wraps by Fenty/Rhee/Henderson, Gillum and Bello have produced a classic case study of what happens when high stakes, high pressure, and big bucks corrupt social policy, per Campbell's Law, which states that
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
Not only have social processes been corrupted, but children have been damaged, too, as noted in this remarkable news story. Here is a small clip:
'A total disconnect'Questions were raised about high test scores at Noyes well before 2008.
A former Noyes parent, Marvin Tucker, says he suspected something was wrong in 2003, when the test scores his daughter, Marlana, brought home from school showed she was proficient in math.
Tucker says he was skeptical because the third-grader was getting daily instruction from a private tutor yet struggled with addition and subtraction. "She was nowhere near where they said she was on the test," he says. "I thought something was wrong with the test."
He questioned Ryan, the principal, and teachers about his daughter's scores but no one could explain how she had scored so high, Tucker recalls. Ultimately, Ryan barred him from the school for a year, saying he had threatened staff members, Tucker says. Tucker denies that.
Tucker also points out that if his daughter was proficient as a third-grader, that didn't last. When Marlana moved on to middle school elsewhere in D.C., her test scores fell and she no longer was considered proficient in math, he says.
Tucker shared his concerns about testing and other issues at Noyes with other parents. A small group went to the school board. "We tried to go through the chain of command," says Debbie Smith-Steiner, a neighborhood activist who worked with Tucker.
Parents even staged a small protest at the school board's offices, she says. Nothing changed and the group eventually let it go, Smith-Steiner says. "There wasn't anything we could do. You are fighting these battles and nobody is listening. Nobody is saying, 'How are these test scores going up so much?' "
Councilman Tommy Wells, then a school board member, says he relayed the parents' concerns to school officials. He says those officials assured him the allegations were checked out and nothing was confirmed. "There were parents and community members who did not like the principal," Wells says. "But we took their concerns seriously."
Several teachers at Noyes also were dubious about the legitimacy of test scores, describing what one called "a disconnect" between the high scores and how their students performed in class.
Ernestine Allen, a former teacher who taught pre-K as well as second- and fourth-grades for five years at Noyes, says it was hard to trust the scores of some students entering her classes. Their scores showed they were doing well when, she says, they were still struggling with reading.
"You wonder, how is it that this student got such a high score?" Allen says. She says teachers talked about the problem among themselves. But, she says, "Who do you tell?"
Allen left Noyes in 2006 after a series of run-ins with Ryan, which included a poor evaluation and an incident in which he called the police on her son, Preston. A police report shows Preston Allen, then 31, went to Ryan's office in October 2005 and asked the principal to stop using profanity when he talked to his mother. Ryan said the situation would be handled "administratively," the report said. No arrests were made.
Another Noyes instructor who taught more recently than Allen agrees with her that test scores were unreliable. "Something doesn't make sense," says the former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. "It's a total disconnect between what scores showed and what I could see in the classroom."
The former teacher also says "there was no way" the students themselves could have erased their own answers and changed them to the right ones. "They didn't check their work," the teacher says. . . . .