HONEST PAUL AND OTHER GROUP FICTIONS! Scribes invented a fictional lad, as they’ve done many times in the past:
THURSDAY, APRIL 7, 2011
From eight schools down to maybe just one: Some things get talked about, other things don’t.
This morning, Trip Gabriel surprised us with this news report in the New York Times. Gabriel discusses a bit of carping—carping about comments Obama recently made about too much standardized testing.
Obama’s comments truly were a bit odd, and the discussion is worth having. But this is a very low-level discussion. Despite that, it made the Times.
Then there’s that major educational topic, the one the Times hasn’t mentioned.
The Times still hasn’t mentioned the scandal about possible cheating on Washington DC’s high-stakes public school tests. Ten days after USA Today broke the story, Times readers haven’t heard Word One about it. Meanwhile, ex-chancellor Rhee has paraded about, helping massage the facts.
On Monday, Rhee appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, an interview program on WAMU, American University’s NPR station. Listening to the first Q-and-A, a listener might even have thought that this scandal involves just one school:
NNAMDI (4/4/11): This is a big two weeks for students in D.C. All across the city, kids are taking standardized tests to measure their progress in reading and math. The progress posted during your tenure as schools' chief has been called into question by the resurfacing of allegations of improprieties that may have occurred on such tests, a USA Today investigation taking a particularly close look at the gains made at Noyes Elementary. Your successor, Kaya Henderson, has called on the city's inspector general to look into the matter. What do you see as being at stake here?RHEE: Well, I actually think that it was an excellent call for the chancellor to call for the I.G. investigation. You know, we took a lot of steps to make sure that testing integrity was a priority with the District when I was there, butbecause there are all of these allegations right now about Noyes, I just think that it is—it’s better to kind of lift the cloud and make sure that everybody is clear, that the gains were real. And if there were problems in, you know, isolated instances, then those problems should be dealt with directly.
In fact, USA Today reported on irregularities at more than 100 schools! Nnamdi never noted this fact—and listening to Rhee, you wouldn’t likely get that impression:
NNAMDI (continuing directly): At first, you pushed back against the story pretty hard. You said that enemies of school reform were once again trying to argue that the world was flat, and that there's no way test scores could have improved for DCPS students unless someone cheated, the implication of the series of reports, but you've tried to walk some of that initial statement back. What are your thoughts about that USA Today series of reports right now?RHEE: Yeah. So the part of that statement that I wanted to walk back was the part about the Earth is flat, because I just thought that was a silly part of the statement. And these are—you know, these are serious issues, now especially with test scores playing a greater role in accountability and teacher evaluation. We have to make sure there's test integrity and good test security, so it absolutely makes sense that people take those allegations seriously. So the Earth is flat part was a little silly.What I did, though, think was problematic is the fact that the USA Today article took one school in particular, and then, it said, you know, this is, you know, an indication of cheating across the District. And we really had never had any indication that that was the case. When schools were brought to us, where classrooms were brought to us as potentially having an irregular rate of erasures, we actually handed it over to an external investigation company to do a full investigation in each of those cases that—well, the vast majority of them, they said, you know, there are no—there's no improprieties. There's no evidence of cheating. And the couple of instances where there were, we took the appropriate actions.So we've really never saw any data that would indicate that there was widespread cheating. And I do think that it is extraordinarily problematic to paint the entire District and all of the kids and all of the teachers who put in a tremendous amount of hard work with a broad brush stroke.
From that, a listener might realize that questions were raised about more than one school. But in the next Q-and-A, Rhee almost made it sound like USA Today was concerned with just one classroom:
NNAMDI: Obviously, one does not want to paint the entire school system with that broad brush, but the number of erasures that were reported in the USA Today series is really remarkable, being compared at one point to being so many that the chances of there being so many erasures by accident is greater than the chances of—or is less than the chances of winning the lottery or winning the Powerball. What, in your view, could be the explanation for that large number of erasures?RHEE: Right. So they were talking, I think, about one particular classroom—NNAMDI: Sure.RHEE: —and I think in classrooms like that, where there is that large an irregularity, you should absolutely look into it. But, again, we handed that off to external investigators. They run their own process. They're the experts in this, and they said that they found no impropriety.
“Sure,” Nnamdi said, helping Rhee pimp a con.
“I, for one, am reluctant to believe that large numbers of administrators or teachers would be involved in cheating,” Nnamdi now declared, prejudging a problem whose extent he had completely failed to describe. Again: At no point did Nnamdi tell listeners that USA Today’s report involved more than 100 schools. (By the way, “Noyes Elementary” is also a middle school. But how could a talk host know that?)
Rhee would simply be funny, if she weren’t so influential. At one point, a caller suggested that students will typically change answers from right to wrong when they make erasures on a test. Skillfully, Rhee used this claim as a way to muddle matters further:
CALLER: Hi. I guess I'm going back to “Erasuregate” here. I've got just a quick observation and a quick question. I'm a professor at Rutgers, and I've been teaching at the university level for about 15 years. And in my own observation, and I admit that this is unscientific, students over the years, about 70 percent of erasures I have found to be changed from the right answer to the wrong answer. And that, you know, this—that the possibility that somehow better test-taking skills, as you suggested before, might be driving students changes from the wrong answers to the right answers, it doesn't make sense, because presumably, by the time students get to Rutgers, they've got pretty good test-taking skills already. So I'd just like you to, sort of, reconcile that. And the second thing is just, you know—NNAMDI: Okay. Let's deal with the first thing first because we're running out of time.RHEE: Yeah. So this is actually an important point because— Just because you have a high number of erasures does not mean that a school is—should be investigated. Because if you have a high number of erasures but, as this person said, those erasures were from right answers to wrong answers or there were stray marks on the paper or something like that, or the school, or the classroom actually saw a decreased in their test scores, then that's really not a worry that you're going to have that something—you know, some kind of cheating was occurring. So you have to look at the places where there weren't irregular number of erasures coupled with a dramatic rise in test scores.
Duh! Rhee said you wouldn’t worry if you got a lot of erasures changing answers from right to wrong. Of course, USA Today had reported the opposite pattern; in over a hundred schools, a very high number of answers were changed from wrong to right.Rhee knew that, but she ran a rather typical con. The caller was no longer on the line, after all, and Nnamdi seemed clueless throughout.
Too much! Last weekend, the Washington Post changed “more than one hundred schools” to just eight (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/4/11). On Monday, Rhee whittled it closer to maybe just one school—and maybe just one classroom! Questioned about erasure patterns, she confused things even further.
Rhee would simply be a good joke, if she weren’t so influential.
Nnamdi utterly failed to perform. The Times still hasn’t said boo.