Bad Apples?: Accountability, AYP, and Cheating

I gave another interview on the cheating scandal in El Paso (1,2,3) yesterday. The question that often arises is this only a case of bad apples? The research literature has long shown serial dishonesty in Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) publicly reported dropout and graduation numbers (See for example IDRALosen, Orfield, & Balfanz, 2006Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond) suggesting that student leavers have been underreported since the inception of accountability in the 1990s. Remember the Ysleta scandal in 1999 for false reporting of data or Houston where Sharpstown and several other high schools reported a 0% dropout rate?

What is the scale of the manipulation of data? After 2005, when the state began to use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) dropout definition for leaver reporting, the statewide dropout count tripled for Latina/os and quadrupled for African Americans. Clearly, El Paso and Atlanta are recent, but not isolated examples. The real issue is that accountability incentivizes “pushing out” secondary students who score poorly on high-stakes exams such as the STAAR. I blame our policymakers for a poorly designed educational policy— accountability is not as good as advertised.

Check out Collateral Damage, a fantastic book on the cheating issue published by the Harvard Education Press and authored by David Berliner and Sharon Nichols.

p.s. In our BRE article, we also found that this is a very serious issue for charter schools. In 2003, a Performance-Based Monitoring System (PBMS) was developed by TEA to validate the data submitted to the state. Audits are triggered when TEA suspects serious falsification of dropout reporting. To study this issue, for the BRE paper we submitted a public information request to TEA seeking recent PBMS audits conducted by the agency on district dropout data. Recent audits showed that charters were more likely to report false student dropout data. A review of TEA audits from 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 revealed that 10 of the 22 PBMS audits were conducted on charter school districts.


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