Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas

September 2, 2006

Blaming the messenger

Does anyone else’s jaw drop when they read the follow?

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

The Texas Education Agency is leaning toward severing ties with the company it hired to look for cheating on the TAKS test, in part because the results have generated negative publicity for the state.

Does this mean TEA had expected them to generated good publicity about possible cheating? Caveon fulfilled its part of the contract, it’s TEA that has had problems dealing with the results.

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

The agency also has some concerns about some methods used by the company, Caveon, officials said.”I don’t have a lot of confidence in them anymore,” state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said. “Right now, I’m sure not inclined to ask Caveon for anything anymore.”

Because they might give her more bad news?

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

But Dr. Neeley and other state officials have repeatedly said they had not planned to investigate any of the schools and that they have done so primarily in response to media coverage of Caveon’s findings.

At least she’s honest. So what was the point of the process? I know that they wanted to establish a “baseline” for future evaluations but it still seems to me that these flags were never meant to render the final status of cheating in a school. They were meant to indicate further investigation even if they weren’t going to make the results public.

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

“It’s how it’s been misconstrued that’s the problem,” said Robert Scott, deputy commissioner of TEA. “The statistical analysis may be fine. But the implications have been ‘everybody’s cheating.’ “

The implication that “everybody’s cheating” has been the result of the pathetic manner in which TEA has handled the results, not the results themselves.

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

Caveon uses statewide data to determine how big a jump in TAKS performance a student typically has from year to year. Then it filters out students whose gains were more than a certain amount above that state average. Schools that have too many of those students get flagged as suspicious.But because it uses the same standard for all schools, Caveon’s method puts additional scrutiny on high-achieving and high-wealth schools. Students at those schools tend to have higher gains from year to year than schools with lower performance.

The result is that Caveon flagged a large percentage of the high schools in well-off suburbs – schools where students generally achieve high TAKS passing rates without having to resort to cheating. Some superintendents have said they don’t trust Caveon’s gain-score methodology.

Let’s see, so students in wealthy districts generally don’t have to cheat to have high TAKS passing rates. The implication is that because of background, they do well on standardized tests anyway. However, these schools were flagged because of a big jump in test scores from year to year which means these schools had significantly lower test scores the previous year.

Now wealthier districts may have access to more resources that allow them to dramatically improve test scores from year to year but the fact remains these districts had low test scores that had to be raised. Given the expectations, as suggested by Neely herself, that students in wealthy districts shouldn’t have any problems passing the TAKS, why wouldn’t some in a district resort to cheating to meet those expectations?

It’s statements like the following that got TEA into this mess to begin with:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

Even though investigations are coming, state officials have said that Caveon’s methods are not reliable enough to evaluate the test scores of individual students and were intended to uncover “anomalies,” not cheating.

Apparently it was very difficult for the reporter (way to go Joshua) to look up the specifics of the contract which states:

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News:

According to Caveon’s contract, its duties were to provide “summary and detailed results” that include “cheating and piracy activities by individual examinees,” “the incidence of test fraud/theft by classroom and school,” and “anomalous test results in schools that are most likely due to cheating by test administrators or outside sources.”

Maybe TEA isn’t part of the reality-based world. Even if the powers that be really did think all Caveon was going to do was report “anomalies,” what was TEA going to do about the anomalies? And these people are running our education system? No wonder it has problems.

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