Updated with link to New York Times story. See story for additional background: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/education/el-paso-rattled-by-scandal-of-disappeared-students.html?pagewanted=all
Different test or make them “disappear” – Same result – but different consequences…
El Paso Superintendent of Schools, Lorenzo Garcia is headed to prison and has to pay back the $56,500 in bonuses he made thanks to the improvement his schools made on standardized tests.
If anyone ever asks you what the biggest difference between Connecticut and Texas is, you can tell them that in Connecticut, we do it with “finesse.”
Over the five years that Steven Adamowski served as Hartford’s Superintendent of Schools, he “dramatically improved” standardized tests scores. For that he received accolades from the Hartford Courant and bonuses from the Hartford Board of Education.
Today, thanks to Governor Malloy and Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Adamowski serves as the “Special Master” of the Windham and New London school systems.
In return for bringing his magic to those struggling school districts, Connecticut’s taxpayers are handing him more than a quarter of a million dollars a year in salary and benefits.
When the Hartford data was actually studied, several critics, backed by statistical evidence, discovered that the primary factor behind Adamowski’s success was his ability to keep more than 10 percent of Hartford’s lowest performing students from taking the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). Instead he had them take the Modified Assessment Test (MAS). As students disappeared from the CMTs, the overall test scores went up. As one researcher noted, “In some schools, at some grade levels, proficiency rates on the standardized tests would have declined in math, reading or both had these students been included.”
But they weren’t included and there was much cheering!
Compare that to the weekend story in the New York Times entitled, “El Paso Schools Confront Scandal of Students Who ‘Disappeared’ at Test Time.”
The story provides a glimpse of what happens when one school administrators manipulate test scores, but do so without the finesse we’ve seen in Connecticut.
According to the New York Times, “school administrators, seeking to meet state and federal standards, fraudulently raised students’ scores on crucial exams.”
They achieved their goal by, “keeping low-performing students out of classrooms altogether by improperly holding some back, accelerating others and preventing many from showing up for the tests or enrolling in school at all.”
In order to improve their scores, El Paso’s schools administrators used a variety of strategies. Some low-performing students were transferred to charter schools, others were discouraged from enrolling in school and still others were told to stay home on test days.
In other cases, grades we changed so that sophomore students returned to freshman status or were bounced up to become juniors. And the list went on.
The Superintendent of schools, Lorenzo Garcia, gained recognition and prominence for his success in raising test scores. He even called his system, “the Bowie model,” as we achieved “academically acceptable” rating or better at each of his district’s schools.
You could almost hear the “education reformers” squealing in excitement as they held up the district as proof that standardized tests did lead to better outcomes. Administrators in some districts were undoubtedly envious. There were even doubters who complained.
So the Texas Education Agency, the equivalent of Connecticut’s Department of Education, conducted a thorough investigation and ruled, two years ago, that there was no sign of wrongdoing.
But Eliot Shapleigh, a lawyer and former state senator, knew there was more and his work eventually brought in the FBI, the U. S. attorney for the Western District of Texas and the Inspector General of the federal Department of Education.
Now, former Superintendent of Schools Garcia is headed to prison and more arrests are expected.
Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency has changed its tune and its new director went to El Paso last week to announce, “I’m outraged by what happened…We’re going to give the district an opportunity to right the ship. And if that doesn’t happen, then obviously there are several options available [including the possibility that the state will take over the school system].
So remember children, a little finesse can make a world of difference.