ALBANY -- It's hard to fix a problem or even answer specific questions regarding an alarming state analysis if a school system doesn't have all the information that was collected.
Dougherty County School System Superintendent Sally Whatley told The Herald Thursday she hadn't been given the specific classroom information the Governor's Office of Student Achievement had collected in order to present its findings to the state Board of Education Wednesday in Atlanta.
"We haven't been given the information yet," Whatley said. "(I'd like) all the answer sheets, so I can do an independent analysis. I requested the student documents. I'm seeking all and any information that will help me get to the answers we need and corrective action."
The accuracy of the Dougherty school system's test scores on last spring's Criterion Referenced Competency Tests was called into question after GOSA Executive Director Kathleen Boyle Mathers presented her five-person team's analysis of all statewide CRCT answer documents for first through eighth grades. The five-month analysis investigated the number of wrong answers that were changed to correct answers on individual student answer sheets in reading, English/language arts and math.
Dougherty County had eight of its schools -- West Town (77.2 percent), Jackson Heights (57.9 percent), Northside (52.2 percent), Martin Luther King Jr. (45.6 percent), Turner (39.4 percent), Alice Coachman (31.7 percent), Morningside (31.6 percent) and Sherwood Acres (25 percent) elementaries -- listed among the state's 4 percent of schools on the "Severe Concern" list. The list featured schools with 25 percent or more of its classes flagged for wrong-to-right answers.
Lamar Reese (22.7 percent), Sylvester Road (22.2 percent), Radium Springs (21.4 percent), Magnolia (18.2 percent) and Lincoln (14.3 percent) elementaries, along with Albany Middle (13.1 percent), fell into the "Moderate Concern" level, which is the second-worst level. Approximately 80 percent of Georgia's schools fell into the "Clear of Concern" category, while 10 percent of the state's schools fell into the "Minimal Concern" category.
West Town's 77.2 percent was ranked sixth-worst on the CRCT erasure analysis in the state. In July when the CRCT results were announced by the state, West Town had the best fifth-grade reading scores in Dougherty County with 98.7 percent passing, an increase of 18 percent from 2008.
"This is more specific information than we've ever had before," Mathers told state school board members Wednesday. "Usually, (school officials) just mail these tests out to the state and never see them again. This is the first time we've done (statewide erasure test analysis)."
Gov. Sonny Perdue told The Associated Press Thursday that the revelation of questionable erasure marks on the CRCT tests last spring was "shameful" and that the GOSA's report had "disheartened" him. The report raised concerns about test results in 370 schools. On Thursday, the state Board of Education called for 191 of those schools, including those in Dougherty County, to investigate whether there was cheating.
Whatley said she spoke to Perdue and Mathers Tuesday morning about the report.
"We certainly needed more information," Whatley said from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. "(But the information the GOSA presented) certainly was overwhelming, and we would partner with the Office of Student Achievement to investigate any issues that we might have with testing and take corrective action. And, we would embrace the recommendations from the Office of Student Achievement to the (Georgia) Department of Education."
Whatley said Wednesday she is also interested in having an independent team outside the Dougherty County School System evaluate the documents from GOSA once they are mailed to the school system.
"I'm talking about a team of educators; it may be testing directors from north Georgia," she said.
Dougherty County School System Test Coordinator Renee Bridges questioned the validity of the state report. She said the only erasure marks school officials may have made were -- per instructions from the Department of Education -- making sure the test's barcodes are scanable for the test's machines.
"Sometimes students play connect the dots," Bridges said. "The only erasures we do are for barcodes. We've got to make sure that barcode is legible. And that is the only cleanup we can do, and you cannot do that yourself. You have to be with another administrator."
Once the tests are collected, Bridges said they are locked in a vault, which only the assistant principal and principal have access to. She said at some schools only the assistant principal has access.
"I'm extremely shocked," Bridges said of the GOSA report. "I know if I take a test with 60 questions, I'll have three or four (answers that I may change). The more conscientious your tester is, the more they will probably change their mind or second-guess themselves."
If a test coordinator has the slightest concern, Bridges said they will alert her immediately. In fact, she said she's never even had any testing issues before.
Questions about the validity of the GOSA report have also brought speculation as to how quickly the Dougherty County School System had improved its AYP numbers. After having only 14 schools make AYP in 2008, 23 of its 26 schools made it in 2009. CRCT test scores are used to determine whether schools have made AYP as required by the federal mandate No Child Left Behind.
"It just doesn't make any sense," Bridges said of the report. "I know the test coordinators, and they're very well-trained.
"What I hope is that we'll be able to get to the bottom of this and that it's not as big as the state is making it to be. I hope we haven't lost the (community's) confidence because I haven't and I'm not giving up. I have faith in them. We have nothing to gain. If our largest erasures were in the lower grades, they don't even count for AYP. I mean, what do we have to gain from it? Absolutely nothing."