When the investigation into possible test cheating in the Dougherty County School System on standardized tests administered in grades one-eight started, we had hopes that the probe would be swift and that the concerns would be unfounded.
A year later, the investigators, who tackled the Atlanta school district first, have just now turned their full attention on Dougherty County. And on Friday, the assessment thus far from the state’s investigators was anything but comforting in regard to whether cheating occurred on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
Fourteen Dougherty County schools were flagged by state officials with the governor’s office because of a high instance of wrong answers that were erased and corrected on the 2009 CRCTs. The state’s investigators have now been in five of those schools, and they say they have found evidence that cheating did occur in all five of those schools.
To make it worse, the investigators say that they have already acquired enough evidence in their work to file criminal charges against some school personnel. It has now gotten to the point where the investigators are employing polygraphs in some of their interviews.
That is, in a word, disheartening.
No one expects the scope of the problems here to be in the same neighborhood as Atlanta, where cheating was found at 44 of 56 schools and officials said 178 teachers and principals either participated or should have known that it was occurring. But the threatening cloud that has been hanging over the Dougherty system for more than a year now does appear to have some rain in it after all.
There has been, however, one bright spot in all this — the cooperation that investigators are getting at a grassroots level from teachers, parents and students. Former attorney general Mike Bowers — who’s heading up the investigation with his lead investigator, former prosecutor Richard Hyde — says they also have gotten good cooperation from school system administrators, attributing much of that to Superintendent Joshua Murfree and School System Attorney Tommy Coleman.
Cooperation from parents and students on this level didn’t develop in Atlanta.
“We’ve identified suspects more quickly here than Atlanta,” Hyde said. “We’ve also had more involvement with students and parents here at a significant grassroots level. That’s been a whole different angle.”
And that is a positive thing for Dougherty County. We hope it is a sign where the real stakeholders — the students and their families — have decided enough is enough; it’s time to get serious about the business of educating the county’s youth.
Dougherty County is lagging behind the rest of the state, and its public secondary education system is one of the problems that have been cited over the years as a hindrance to population growth and development. It’s not the only issue we have, but certainly schools are high on the list of any prospective employer who’s looking to locate a business in a community, and they are atop the list for families who are thinking of moving into a community. You can make what arguments you want, but the bottom line is the school system right now is not a selling point for Dougherty County.
If it turns out there are bad apples in the school system, removing them when the probe wraps up later this year will be an improvement.
But an even greater improvement could come from this grassroots involvement that investigation has stimulated. If parents and guardians of students decide en masse that a good, solid education is the best path to prosperity and put their notion into action by demanding excellence from their children, school personnel, and school system administrators and School Board members, the Dougherty County School System could make great progress in record time.
We, as a community, can achieve what we want, but first we have to want to achieve.