Thursday, January 13, 2005

So Much TEA Baloney: 'We Have Zero Tolerance for Cheating'

By Roddy Stinson

San Antonio Express-News

So much baloney, so little space:

SASD checking for test tampering

"We have zero tolerance for cheating."

—Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley at a Jan. 10, 2005, news conference, responding to a Dallas Morning News investigation that found evidence of "organized educator-led cheating" on standardized tests at hundreds of Texas schools.

"We simply cannot tolerate cheating (on standardized tests )."

—Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe on Feb. 18, 1999, following an investigation that found evidence of cheating in 33 Texas schools

Same song. Same thundering, cover-your-backside verse.

Could get better, but 'twill only get worse.

If TEA officials' unwillingness and/or inability to stem the cheating tide between 1999 and 2005 is an indication of their ethical commitment and professional competence, it's easy to predict that Commissioner Neeley's "zero tolerance" will produce a future investigation that finds cheating in THOUSANDS of Texas schools.

The state may have already reached that unethical distinction.

"The News' method of looking for unusual test scores does not catch all cheaters," the Dallas investigators reported. "It does not, for instance, detect schools that cheat consistently across multiple grades and multiple subjects.

"It also doesn't catch more subtle cheaters. A teacher who gives students a few correct answers on test day could raise her students' scores enough for them to pass, but not enough for a huge score increase that might draw attention."

Such info is old news to Express-News readers.

From an April 1993 column:

"For the past eight years, I have written commentary after commentary about cheating on standardized tests. I can recite a half-dozen ways to boost scores, all described to me by educators."

From a July 1995 column:

"... raising scores is as simple as leaning over a child's desk and saying, 'Are you sure that answer is correct?' ... or making a gesture to indicate whether an answer is right or wrong."

From an April 1998 column:

"The ease with which a 'helpful' educator with an eraser can raise scores makes a joke of the 'assessment of academic skills.'"

A search through Express-News databases found numerous other published reports of cheating.

One of the most chilling:

"Are educators cheating on TAAS? Is anyone going to stop them?" — a 7,500-word exposé published in the Feb. 25, 1999, Houston Press.


"(Two educators) say they were shocked when their normally struggling students received high marks on the TAAS. One says she had an overflow class of particularly low-performing students one year, yet almost all of them received 'academic recognition' when their scores came back, even one whom she had tried to get tested for learning disabilities. 'When I saw the test scores, I said there's no way those kids passed. I mean, they couldn't read.'"

The same database search found virtually no reports of cheaters paying any penalties.

From the 1999 Houston Press report:

"(The TEA) has revoked only one certificate for (cheating), back in 1993. It has suspended certificates on five occasions."

Attempts to determine the number of cheaters penalized since 1999 proved futile.

"I don't know," a TEA spokeswoman said Monday when I asked her how many educators had been penalized for cheating and/or document tampering. She said the State Board for Educator Certification might provide information on revoked/suspended teacher certificates. But calls to that agency on Monday and Tuesday produced nothing but recorded messages and no return calls or info about the number of penalized cheaters.

A good guess: Zero.

And the leniency isn't likely to change — as evidenced by this news conference comment by Education Commissioner Neeley:

"Don't rush to judgment just because scores on a test increase rapidly. That result is more likely to mean it's time to celebrate, rather than investigate."

Same song.

Umpteenth clever, cunning, cover-up verse.

To contact Roddy Stinson, call (210) 250-3155 or e-mail

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