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DCSS leaders respond to state

ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County School System officials repeated at Wednesday's mid-month afternoon Board of Education meeting that they would welcome the state investigation team appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue when they arrive.

Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers and former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson have yet to step foot in Albany as part of the governor's investigation into the high number of irregular erasures Dougherty County students made on their 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

The DCSS had eight elementary schools flagged by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement under its "severe concern" rating and another five elementary schools and a middle school placed on its "moderate concern" list.

Superintendent Joshua Murfree, Board Chair David Maschke and the system's lead investigator for its CRCT investigation, James Wilson, all said they were disappointed in the lack of communication they received from the GOSA. Wilson cited a July 27 e-mail from GOSA Executive Director Kathleen Mathers during his hour-plus presentation to the board. Wilson was seeking information about the second report that he turned in July 12 for Dougherty County and another school system he was representing.

"You can let the superintendents know that we're reviewing their reports, and I'll get in touch with them when I have information to share. Thanks," Mathers wrote.

Wilson said Mathers didn't keep her word.

"The problem is, she didn't communicate with the superintendent," he said. "She communicated to the superintendent through the webcast last (Wednesday when she addressed the state board of education).

"They said they would respond to us and that did not occur," he said later.

One of the new aspects of Wilson's second eight-page report which he went over with the board -- which was missing absent Anita Williams-Brown and Milton "June Bug" Griffin -- was the erasure marks of West Town and Jackson Heights elementary school students. The two schools had the highest percent of test sections flagged at 77.2 and 57.9 percent, respectively, for irregular erasures for wrong-to-right responses.

Wilson, DCSS Test Coordinator Renee Bridges, Georgia Professional Standards Commission's Gerald Eads, the DCSS independent investigative team, reviewed the schools' third- to eighth-grade answer sheets when they went to Indianapolis in March.

"The erasure marks are scattered with no definite pattern," Wilson wrote in his report. "There are wrong to right, but in almost every individual student marks there are also either wrong to wrong or right to wrong."

Wilson concluded that, "I feel comfortable with this report."

"There's some belief (from the state) you're guilty," he added. "I doubt very seriously other school systems (under investigation) used their police departments for the investigation, but I didn't find anyone cheating. I've done this type of thing many different ways, but I didn't find anyone guilty of cheating. Did somebody cheat, maybe so, but I didn't find it."

After hearing Wilson's presentation and going over his state-mandated follow-up report, board member Emily Jean McAfee questioned how the GOSA and Gov. Perdue couldn't accept it.

"It's beyond me that this wasn't even sufficient," said the retiring board member. "It seems to me to have two aggressive attorneys come down here, as our attorney (Tommy Coleman) describes them, that it distracts us from what we're doing. I still feel we did what we're supposed to do and that Mrs. Bridges, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Eads did all they could, but if that's not good enough I'm sorry."

Maschke wondered about the fairness of Mathers' using first- and second-grade examples in her PowerPoint presentation to prove her case when the DCSS was unable to look at the same grades by the GOSA since DCSS officials were told the questions for these grades would be repeated the next couple of years. However, Maschke said that argument became moot once the state Legislature choose not to fund CRCT testing for the same two grades.

Of Dougherty's flagged test sections, 63 percent of those 14 severe and moderate concern schools were in first- or second-grade test sections.

"How are we to defend ourselves when we don't have all that information ourselves?" Maschke asked. "If they've retired these tests for first- and second-grade why can't we see those tests?"

"There's a major disconnect," Wilson answered.

"If you say you can't have something, they're controlling the process and they're not being fair to you," retiring board member Michael Windom said. "Obviously, Ms. Mathers is most comfortable sitting in her office giving dictates. ... How can you adhere to something when it's not clearly defined? ... I question the validity of the data and being held accountable (for it)."

Maschke questioned Mathers' PowerPoint stating that the DCSS never turned in any educators' names into the Georgia Professional Standards Commission since one of the school system's investigators worked for the PSC.

"They never turned in a name," Maschke said.

"We didn't report anyone to the PSC because we didn't find anyone guilty," Wilson answered.

"If the GOSA is so convinced that someone is guilty why don't they refer anyone to PSC?" Maschke asked.

"They have only one indicator (wrong-to-right) and that's all they have," Wilson said.

Murfree then presented his side of the case. He pointed out that within the GOSA's original Feb. 10 presentation to the state board, it stated: "The erasure analysis is considered a check for unusual numbers of erasures to student responses. Without additional layers added to the analysis, this kind of check only addresses the possibility, not the certainty, of teachers or administrators altering the responses of students."

The superintendent also wanted to make it clear that this ongoing process was beginning to hamper the school system's ability to educate its students.

"Let's get to the business of educating our young people because we can stay on this for the next year or the next two years," Murfree said. "We have complied and will continue to comply. We're not hiding anything from anyone."