DISD test score gains raise questions

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 6:00 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 26 at 8:53 PM

DALLAS — An alarming look at standardized test results across the nation is hitting home for some North Texas schools.

More than a half dozen area districts — including the Dallas ISD — have a high concentration of suspect test scores.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 196 of the country's largest districts have suspicious results which could point to instances of cheating.

Last year, the Journal-Constitution uncovered the largest cheating scandal ever in the U.S. Now, that same methodology is being used to raise questions about test scores here in North Texas.

The Atlanta newspaper exposed widespread cheating on standardized tests, and found teachers being pressured to meet targets set by the district in a 2011 report.

Using that same formula, Atlanta reporters arrived at figures suggesting irregular test score gains were being made across the nation, including in Dallas.

With a 5 percent gain being normal, in 2011, DISD registered a 10.76 percent gain.

Dallas ISD officials say they have no reason to believe that number is meaningful. The district already uses an internal analysis system that has caught two major cases of cheating — at Field Elementary last year and at Lang Middle school in 2009.

"We had no evidence prior to the Lang event to indicate there was some kind of problem taking place," said DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, "but because that anomaly surfaced, we were able to go in and conduct an investigation."

Joining DISD in double-digit test score anomalies last year were:

  • Duncanville ISD (23 percent)
  • Lancaster ISD (10.3 percent)
  • Waxahachie ISD (15 percent)
  • Wylie ISD (10.7 percent)

Duncanville ISD spokeswoman Tammy Kuykendall told News 8 the 23 percent gain does not match the district's data. "We have no reason to believe such anomalies in our student test scores exist," she said.

University of Texas at Dallas Professor Rodney Andrews crunches numbers for a living; he's the Director of the Texas Schools Project, which analyzes data to improve education.

Andrews said while test score trends are helpful, no one should jump to conclusions. "There's no criticism here," he said. "This is just additional information that they could use to better the educational outcomes of the kids, and in no way condemns DISD."

The test score anomalies are only a suggestion that further investigation should take place, according to Andrews.

Dallas and Duncanville school officials say they are doing just that, however the Texas Education Agency said Monday they have no plans to investigate the test scores in Dallas or anywhere else in the state.

A TEA spokeswoman said uncovering wrongdoing is up to individual districts.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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