Monday, April 30, 2012

Let's be clear: When cheating does exist, MCPS will work to cover it up.

MCPS has issued the following press release in response to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution article on Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD.  Bear in mind that when there were allegations of cheating at Potomac Elementary School MCPS was busy covering up the issue

The AJC article and accompanying chart raised questions about how test scores could climb, and then fall. Will MCPS investigate the phenomenon or seek to ignore the issue at hand?

Dr. Starr Responds to Irresponsible Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article 
April 30, 2012
MCPS Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr offered the following response to Sunday's article in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) has published an article that looked at the standardized test results of schools that were named National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Highland Elementary School, in Silver Spring, was one of the schools included in the AJC’s article. The story identifies large swings in standardized test scores for the schools that won the Blue Ribbon award. The AJC’s implication is that Highland students and staff must have cheated. 
Let me be clear: The turnaround that occurred at Highland Elementary School was the result of having a great school leader and a motivated staff that had the training, support and resources it needed to serve its students. There has never been an allegation of cheating at Highland Elementary School since the school’s turnaround began and the school continues to get tremendous results even as its resources have been cut significantly over the past four years.
The AJC’s story not only represents irresponsible journalism, but it fosters the very stereotypes that have dogged public education for too long. The underlying message is that schools comprised of mostly African American, Hispanic or poor students cannot achieve at a high level unless they cheat. We know that is not the case and are disturbed by the inference. There are no shortcuts to this success. It takes focus, investment and commitment, but all students can learn if they are provided the instruction, supports and interventions they need.
Highland has nothing to hide, which is why we welcomed AJC reporter Alan Judd to the school. He saw the tremendous instruction going on in each classroom, saw multiple examples of great student work and spoke at length to the teachers and principals. Little of that is represented in the story, and what is represented is in the last section of the article long after the suggestion of cheating has been made. The AJC does not offer one scintilla of evidence that cheating occurred at Highland, but rather uses inferences and selective data in an attempt to prove its point.
The article suggests that Highland’s performance on state assessments has fallen dramatically, focusing on a drop in the percentage of students that scored in the “advanced” range in 5th grade reading. However, Mr. Judd was told numerous times that the drop was related to budget reductions that resulted in the loss of staff that helped with focused reading instruction and interventions for students that were struggling. He fails to mention that the percentage of 5th grade students scoring at proficient or higher on the reading exam was above 95 percent, where it has been for three consecutive years.
The article suggests that the fact that Highland didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2011 is a further indication of questionable results in the past. Yet, the authors fail to mention that in 2011, Highland missed AYP by four students in just one subgroup—special education—in mathematics during a year that the Academic Measurable Objective increased. This data tells us nothing about Highland, but rather speaks to the absurdity of the AYP formula. 
The AJC had its story written long before it visited Highland Elementary, which is unfortunate. But that does not diminish the accomplishments of the school’s staff and students.
I challenge anyone to walk the halls of Highland, watch the teaching and learning in the classrooms and see the quality of the student work and not come away convinced that the school’s test scores are not only valid, but are also just a small indicator of its success.


  1. I am proud to be the parent of a teacher at Highland Elementary. This twenty-something go-getter knew she would be a teacher from the time she was four years old and would 'teach' her baby sister in her high chair. She is dedicated beyond belief, and spends every waking moment planning engaging lessons and thinking of ways to make learning fun. When I met others in her school just like her, I KNEW those kids were the lucky ones, and that the scores would show it. The previous principal, who recruited those tremendously talented teachers is the reason the Blue Ribbon hangs in the hallway of Highland Elementary. That staff would not cheat because they didn't need to. They are that good.

    1. The issue is not the teachers at the school. The issue is the education system in this country, led by the US Department of Education. Currently, led by Arne Duncan who wrote a glowing tribute for the Harvard book (one of the authors was Stacey Childress) on Jerry Weast. Blue Ribbons have been given out to schools, like Highland, where the scores peaked and then fell. That's not a turnaround. That's a blip. A turnaround would be sustainable change that can be replicated at other schools.

      In this case the time line looks like this:

      Scores low.
      Principal Ray Myrtle brought in.
      Scores rise.
      Blue Ribbon awarded to school immediately.
      Harvard's Stacey Childress immediately published Case Study on success.
      The very next school year Principal Myrtle is promoted to administrative position to lead MCPS-Pearson Curriculum project. Principal Myrtle leaves MCPS months later.
      School is given Urban Education award.
      Advanced scores go back to where they were before award ceremonies and Harvard paper.

      So we are to understand that the only way to have a high performing school in the red zone of MCPS is if Raymond Myrtle is the principal? What got the MSA scores to change? What do the other test measures at the school show? MSA is just one measure. Where is the rest of the data? Those are all issues for the Superintendent, and he's not talking.

  2. Paula BienenfeldMay 1, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Mr. Myrtle was the principal at Somerset ES many years ago. At the time I had looked at the different elem. schools and ended up thinking Somerset was the best ES in the county. I called and spoke to Mr. Myrtle who was very helpful and gave me lots of advice. Sometimes, yes, high performance comes from outstanding, dedicated people who love children and pedagogy and do a wonderful job. Isn't this what a lot of this debate nationally is about? How does the public bottle Mr. Myrtle and put his ilk in the school. Clearly it isn't easy.

  3. As an African American woman and an educator, I am apalled at the cheating allegations. It is irresponsible journalism. I am further apalled that some individuals find these claims credible. Schools have initiated intensive remediation programs, selected and used new materials, implemented new approaches, and extended instructional time in order to improve achievement. Why is it that some individuals feel that cheating is the only way that Latino and African American children can achieve? That is offensive and wrong. Teachers and children have worked hard to raise achievement and improve testing outcomes. Is it "statistically impossible" for children from low-income neighborhoods to achieve? Is it "statistically impossible" for African American children to achieve at high levels? Is it "statistically impossible" for Latino children to experience academic success? It is not only an insult to the children and their families, but it is an insult to teachers who work hard everyday. Teachers who stay afterschool to tutor students, teachers who come early to meet with parents, teachers who give up planning time to help struggling students - these types of teachers are the majority and we need to recognize that. These teachers and more importantly, the children they teach deserve our support. What kind of message do we send to our children when we tell them that their success is "statistically impossible"?

    1. If you read that AJC article you will see that the main issue is that schools that have been awarded the Blue Ribbons aren't really turnaround schools. So the kids are being cheated. The scores go up, the Blue Ribbon is awarded, and the scores fall back down.
      The Blue Ribbon awards the adults. The kids deserve a good education and they aren't getting that if they are just being manipulated for adult gains.
      That is something that should really make you mad!

      Superintendent Starr has introduced a lot of spin to hide the issue of how the kids have been cheated in schools that are hyper focused on making the adults into super stars.

      Superintendent Starr can investigate what really went on at this school to explain why the test scores soared, and then fell back down after the award.

      If you read the comments on these blog postings, some very interesting points are being made about the coding of the kids in this school. That coding is very important and allows students to have accommodations when taking MSAs. Accommodations like extended time and a reader. If accommodations were used in excess to boost the scores at this one school, then isn't that something that we should all know about and be looking at for other schools? What worked and why was it dropped after the Blue Ribbon?

    2. Do you work in a school? Have you taught? A student with a reading disability or a vision disability is allowed an accommodation. Why is that a problem? Children with disabilities in all schools are allowed these accommodations. But the real question and point of concern is why we place so much emphasis on tests. They are not the best measure of learning or teaching. Let's try this: Evaluate a school based on one day or one week of multiple choice tests. Wait...we already do that and look how well it has worked.

    3. Parents are well aware of the accommodations children are entitled to receive when they attend public school. They are also very aware when those accommodations are DENIED to their children.

      In this school a very high percentage of children were coded in such as way as to be eligible for accommodations on tests due to their limited English language skills. Did they receive these accommodations? How many students? Would these same students have received the same level of accommodations if they were in another MCPS school?

      What goes on in our public schools is not a secret. It's a matter of public record. The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being used in the name of "education".

    4. My guess about whether or not students would receive accommodations at other schools would depend on if there were enough available adults to offer the accommodations. In a title I school, there are a lot of extra personnel--academic support teachers, ESOL teachers, instructional assistants etc.--thus more people available to give accommodations. On days when both grades 3 and 4 are testing, every non classroom adult in my school is pulled to provide accommodations. Poor schools tend to have more students requiring accommodations, and they typically have more adults to provide them. I don't know if this makes a difference or not--but it is an observation.

    5. Janis - LEP students (limited-English proficient) receive testing accommodations in ALL schools for tests. Similar to students with disabilities, they are entitled to receive these accommodations. Once again, are you insinuating that LEP students cannot succeed unless cheating is involved? Why are you so concerned that LEP students received accommodations? LEP students are ESOL students. They are children whose native language is not English. They are students who may have been born in the US or in another country. The key is that their first language was not English. These children receive support throughout the school year as they are not only learning subject area information, they are also learning the English language. This information is a matter of public record. If you want to know how your tax dollars are used, pick up an educational journal, read a book, or research education. Issues related to teaching and testing LEP students is a hot educational topic. It's not hard to find info about this and it's definitely not a secret. Again, are you insinuating that LEP children cannot succeed unless cheating is involved or that the school must have done something wrong if this group of children was successful? Be careful how you answer that question. You don't want your true feelings to be a matter of public record.

    6. @ 9:48 And you are anonymous because why? Your comment was placed in the SPAM file by blogger for a reason.

      If 9:48 believed in anything they were saying they would sign their name. They didn't. That's the way the public school systems go after advocates. That's what the PR Departments in public school systems are for. Anonymous posts with personal attacks. That would be bullying, wouldn't it? Paid for by your tax dollars.

      There are a lot of comments on this post and others on Highland Elementary that go to the root issue of these test scores. Lots of good reading for people that are actually interested in the topic.

  4. The smoking gun in my view for Highland Elementary is the very high percentage of students identified BY THE SCHOOL SYSTEM ITSELF as being eligible for the
    Limited English Proficient (LEP) Program.

    It is always above 60% for those several years when nearly every fifth grade student was reportedly reading English at an advanced level.

    What is the LEP Program?

    "Special Services: LEP Program Participants

    The number and percentage of students assessed as eligible for the Limited English Proficient (LEP) Program. LEP is also referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL).

    LEP students have a primary or home language other than English and have been assessed as having limited or no ability to understand, speak, read, or write English. The counts are reported as of the student's last day of enrollment in the school system - either the last day in school or the date the student withdrew. The percentage is calculated by dividing the number of LEP students by the June net enrollment. "


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