Former Washington, DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee made her name on union-busting and allegedly improving test scores in the city's public schools. The test score gains were always overhyped by her supporters—now it turns out that they may have been fraudulent. According to a major investigative piece by USA Today reporters Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello, at Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus:
Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.
Rhee elevated the school as an example of how successful her program was, and handed out large bonuses to teachers and administrators. But a look at the test sheets of students during the time scores at Noyes were soaring shows a startling pattern of erasures in which an initial incorrect answer was erased and replaced with a correct one:
In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.
On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.
It wasn't just this one school, either:
Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff," as the district's website says. Noyes was one of these.
Rhee's administration resisted calls to investigate these patterns.
While it's unlikely that Michelle Rhee personally went around erasing incorrect answers from student test sheets and replacing them with correct ones, it seems very likely that the intense pressure she placed on principals and teachers to show massive improvements or be summarily fired created the incentive for some to cheat. Rather than investigating it, Rhee touted their results as signs of her own success. And for that alleged success she was featured on magazine covers, endlessly lauded, and given a massive platform to advocate for her methods as the one true answer to education reform. Clearly, some reevaluation is in order.