Delays hinder testing probe

ALBANY -- Since Feb. 10, Dougherty County School System officials have been attempting to gather specific information from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement regarding its first erasure analysis on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests from last spring.

The school system even went to the extent of filing a Georgia Open Records request Feb. 22 to collect the critical information that is missing in order to understand how eight of its 16 elementary schools were placed in the state's "Severe Concern" list and six more of its schools were put on the "Moderate Concern" list. Only 4 percent of state schools were placed on the "severe" list and 6 percent of state schools the "modern" list.

The "Severe Concern" list meant that schools with 25 percent or more of its test sections were flagged for wrong-to-right answers. 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 were listed on the "severe" list.

The "Moderate Concern" level was the second worst level with 6 percent of the state designated at this status with 11 percent to 24 percent of test sections flagged. 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) made the "moderate" level.

Approximately 80 percent of Georgia's schools fell into the "Clear of Concern" category, which is less than 6 percent of the test sections at a given school being flagged. Ten percent of the state's schools fell into the "Minimal Concern" category with 6 percent to 10 percent of test sections flagged.

West Town's 77.2 percent was ranked the state's sixth worst on the CRCT erasure analysis.

Dougherty County Superintendent Sally Whatley provided an analysis of the school system's efforts to receive the student answer documents and find out the number of students per flagged test section with an irregular number of wrong-to-right answers to media outlets Thursday afternoon.

Whatley said she has requested that the requested documents be sent directly to Georgia Professional Standards Commission Director Gary Walker for him to analyze.

"I'm not making any immediate conclusions, but we're not being given all the information to make definitive conclusions," Whatley said. "We do have such a high number (of erasure irregularities) and that's why I want to get to the bottom of this to get to the truth.

"It's been a mammoth undertaking," Whatley added of school system efforts to collaborate the state's alarming findings. "We haven't found any breach of security for this number of flagging and what people believe is cheating. People ring (DCSS Test Coordinator) Renee (Bridges') phone off the hook (during the testing) because they're so paranoid."

According to information provided by the school system, Dougherty County officials followed up its faxed and mailed letter sent on Feb. 10 to Governor's Office of Student Achievement Executive Director Kathleen Mathers with an e-mail to Mathers on Feb. 12.

Mathers called the school system back Feb. 16 and told them that she would follow up with CTB-McGraw Hill, the state's test vendor in charge of developing and scoring CRCT exams. GOSA partnered with CTB-McGraw Hill to conduct a comprehensive analysis of all state CRCT answer documents between first and eighth-grade. The examination focused on wrong-to-right answers. Mathers told The Herald Feb. 10 after her presentation to the state board of education that five people from her office worked on the analysis along with the test company, CTB-McGraw Hill, from September 2009 to January 2010.

On the Feb. 22 Open Records request to Mathers, school officials requested CRCT answer documents; names of students in flagged test sections; number of wrong-to-right answers per student in the flagged test sections; and the names of the CTB McGraw-Hill officials who completed the statistical analysis.

The school system received a faxed letter from Mathers in response to its Open Records request Feb. 25. The letter stated that Governor's Office of Student Achievement wasn't in possession of the CRCT answer documents. It also stated that it was working with CTB-McGraw Hill "to find a practical way to make the data requested available."

Whatley followed up with DCSS School Board consultant James Wilson, the CEO Education Planners, which the board used to audit the Child Nutrition Program and central office in recent months.

After receiving Mathers' reply, Dougherty County School System Attorney Tommy Coleman contacted Gov. Perdue's attorney regarding the CRCT answer documents. On the same day, Mathers confirmed that DCSS would be receiving the names of the students per flagged test section and the corresponding number of wrong-to-right answers per student. Mathers said the information would be sent to schools by March 12.

Whatley also spoke again to Walker Feb. 26, as well as Gov. Perdue to request CRCT answer documents.

"Gov. Perdue stated that he would work with Mrs. Mathers and Mr. Kelly Henson (executive secretary of Georgia Professional Standards Commission) to determine a protocol to release the documents that would be satisfactory to all involved," the DCSS handout states.

On Monday, Dougherty County School System officials faxed and mailed a letter to the Professional Standards Commission to provide consultant services to the DCSS in CRCT investigation. Walker agreed to be the school system's consultant for no charge, Whatley said.

Tuesday, the school system contacted one of the professionals recommended by the Professional Standards Commission to review the documents when they're released by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. Coleman followed up that same day by faxing and mailing a letter to Mathers "reiterating the urgency to secure the needed data to complete a thorough investigation."

After going over the Dougherty County School System's actions over the last three weeks, Whatley repeated Thursday that consequences would follow, if the need arose, after the school system collaborated GOSA's erasure analysis findings.

"If it becomes clear that someone has cheated, then they will be reported to the Professional Standards Commission," Whatley said. "The integrity and reputation of everyone is at stake and ultimately it's mine. The tiniest irregularity (Bridges) tells me. We self-report."

In fact, Whatley feels so confident in her school system's testing procedures that she will welcome the community to observe this year's CRCT testing, barring of course that they don't disturb the student test takers.

"We're going to invite members of the community to come and see how we administer these tests," Whatley said. "They can have a conversation with the test coordinator and principal. I think people will be surprised how structured and organized (we are).

"My hope is that we will eventually get to the bottom of the concern and that's solely dependent on the Professional Standards Commission getting the documents needed to complete the investigation."

After the meeting, Bridges questioned why the Governor's Office of Student Achievement had delayed sending critical documents.

"Why are they holding out on us? I really don't know why," said Bridges, who has held her title for six years. "In order to make sure that anything unethical took place you need to have several types of analysis and you need to be able to examine the documents.

Otherwise, all we can do is hypothesize what might've happened and you can't be sure of anything with that kind of analysis.

"We want to do well as a system because we're doing things right and not because we're doing anything wrong," she added.