FOX 8 Investigates: New Orleans schools flagged for cheating
New Orleans, La. -- State records show a significant number of New Orleans public schools have been flagged for possible cheating on standardized tests. The state's education department found an alarming number of erasure marks, plagiarism, and instances when teachers improperly administered tests.
33 New Orleans schools were put to the test - and failed.
Between 2010 and 2012, 130 LEAP and iLEAP tests had to be voided because of infractions discovered by the Louisiana Department of Education. In 2011 alone, the state flagged tests from nearly one-fourth of all schools in New Orleans for irregularities.
Educational psychologist David Berliner says that number suggests cheating.
"They're doing it, we know they're doing it," Berliner said. "When you get a 22-percent rate of irregularity, you know something's a mess."
Most notably that year, the state found four schools in New Orleans with a suspiciously high rate of answers changed from wrong to right. All four schools are in the Recovery School District.
The most came from the James Singleton Charter School, where 23 LEAP and iLEAP math tests taken by 8th and 3rd graders had to be voided that year. Each of the answer sheets were found to have a highly unusual amount of erasure marks compared to an average test.
We asked officials in the education department's Office of Assessment and Accountability how likely it is that the students changed their mind and erased their own answers on their test.
Their response: "Statistically it is not possible that this occurred due to chance."
State officials say, in a case like this, the school would be monitored the next year as it administers tests. They did not tell us whether Singleton was monitored, but the school's 5th grade iLEAP math test scores dropped 25 percent in 2013.
In May, Singleton's principal told the school's board of directors less than 12 percent of students scored "basic" or above on this year's tests. Also, some educators were being let go because, she said, the "teaching quality isn't there."
Students at three other New Orleans schools had iLEAP and LEAP tests voided for a high rate of answer changing that year:
- eight tests at Dwight Eisenhower Charter School
- three at Dr. King Charter School
- four at F.W. Gregory Elementary - which has since closed.
The potential cheating is frustrating for parents like Justina Williams. She works with the PRIDE Program in the Urban League of Greater New Orleans to get families involved in their children's education.
"It's more important that they teach these children the right thing, rather than to come back and fix it afterwards," said Williams. "You can't fix it because it's too late."
Recovery School District Spokesperson Zoey Reed told FOX 8 and our partners at The Lens the district has since "increased the number of testing monitors and have provided them with more training to prevent infractions."
But there are other ways to cheat.
Berliner says after the erasing scandal in the Atlanta Schools lead to the indictment of three-dozen educators, teachers are finding more subtle ways to give students an advantage - such as leaving informational posters up on the wall, or walking by and pointing to the correct answer.
"All of those are ways of gaming the system a little bit and they make the test invalid," said Berliner. "They give an advantage to some teachers and schools that other teachers and schools don't have, and it ruins the whole system."
Former teacher and administrator Robin Wright says those types of infractions are clearly breaking the rules that are spelled out for every test administrator in the iLEAP test administration manual.
"It is definitely full-on cheating to keep up a poster in a classroom during a test that everybody knows that's cheating- so if that's happening, that's someone's intention," Wright said.
The state categorizes those types of violations as "administrator errors."
State investigations show six New Orleans schools from 2010-2012 administrated tests improperly - to the point that students got retests.
Other state investigations found that Miller-McCoy, Moton and Carver High Schools allegedly provided students with access to test questions before they sat down for the exam.
Wright says, if schools are struggling and jobs are believed to be on the line, she can understand the temptation to cheat. "Some people do get desperate and just like in any situation when the stakes are really high, and money is connected, folks think about it," said Wright.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education's website, the grading system for elementary school performance scores is based fully on LEAP and iLEAP test scores.
Middle School performance scores are graded 95 percent on test scores, and based 5 percent on the number of students promoted to high school.
For more information, visit this story at TheLensNola.org.