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High number of erasure marks shadow soaring test scores in D.C. schools

USA Today broke a massive investigative story  Monday that looked into some of Washington D.C.'s soaring test scores in recent years. The investigation was launched by USA Today after it found that a school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, went from 10 percent proficiency marks to being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for its incredible improvements.

Apparently, those results mirror a trend in D.C. in recent years. But those gains are now in question, after USA Today found the number of answers changed wrong-to-right on standardized tests was so high, that the odds that the number of erasures happened by chance aren't even comparable to winning the lottery's Powerball drawing.

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This is familiar territory for us here in Baltimore. We learned that a similar situation transpired at George Washington Elementary--a National Blue Ribbon School--in 2008. State officials found thousands of erasure marks on test booklets, and the school's former principal was stripped of her license.

According to the USA Today report, "based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, [USA Today] found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones."

"Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008," the report said. "That's more than half of D.C. schools."

The investigation has spurred a series of questions not only about possible testing improprieties in D.C. schools, but also about the tenure of former embattled schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

In his column, The Washington Post's Jay Mathews called for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to pull Noyes' Blue Ribbon status. In other states, USA Today pointed out, these discoveries have resulted in criminal investigations.

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