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Topic: Dallas ISD determined teachers had been cheating
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Dallas ISD determined teachers had been cheating
Posted: Aug 15, 2014 5:55 PM
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From The Dallas Morning News, Thursday, August 14, 2014. See
STAAR scores, rating plunged at top elementary
after Dallas ISD determined teachers had been

By Jeffrey Weiss and Matthew Haag

SIDEBAR: Suspicious STAAR results - See website
for bar graphs of scores and passing percentages
Umphrey Lee Elementary was recognized as one of
the best schools in Dallas, based primarily on
STAAR test scores. But Dallas ISD officials
concluded that was a sham, a distinction propped
up by teachers feeding students answers on most
of the 2012-13 state assessment tests.

Five teachers and an instructional coach resigned
as the result of an investigation last October.
And by the end of the 2013-14 school year, the
students' STAAR results had plummeted, dropping
the school from the state's top rating to as low
as they go.

District officials, however, never informed
Umphrey Lee parents that their children might not
have learned as much as their test scores
indicated. Nor did the district offer tutoring or
other remedial help for those students.

"Wow, I never heard anything. I never received a
letter," said Carol Williams-Burnett, whose
daughter attended the school in Red Bird. "It is
a disservice because they aren't given everything
they need. If you don't get what you need from
the previous grade, then it will be really hard
in the next grade."

The district initially said it was waiting for
state action before telling parents. But late
Thursday, DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said that
was a mistake.

"We've determined that some things probably could
have been handled better," he said. "A situation
like this in the future Š should call for parents
to be notified, both by a letter and likely a
meeting with parents to explain the situation. We
need to do this as we move forward."

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie
Ratcliffe said that other districts have done
just that. "A number of other districts that have
had situations sent information out to their own
communities based on their own findings without
waiting for the state investigation to conclude,"
she said.

At Umphrey Lee, 198 students may have been
affected by the cheating. Dahlander said he was
unaware of any special resources offered to them.
"That said, it is important to note that there
are other assessments used throughout the year to
determine how students are performing
academically," he said.

In Georgia, however, Atlanta Public Schools are
offering help to students after a massive
cheating scandal there. The district is spending
millions on remediation classes for thousands of
children who were affected by bogus test scores,
according to news reports.

Other tests

For years, Umphrey Lee Elementary seemed to defy
the odds. Nearly all of the students were from
low-income families, yet the school's scores
topped those of almost all of the district's 150
elementary schools.

Following the 2010-11 school year, the Texas
Education Agency nominated Umphrey Lee as a
National Blue Ribbon School, a federal honor
given to the best schools. But state test scores
that year contrasted with some national tests
given to the same students. Only 4 in 10
fifth-graders scored as proficient in math on the
Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The same year, 94
percent of those students passed the TAKS math.

Dahlander said the district responded to an
anonymous tip in 2011 about teachers cheating at
Umphrey Lee. An investigation led to the
resignation of one teacher. It was considered an
isolated case, he said.

In 2012, the first year for the new STAAR exams,
the school's scores slipped. In 2013, the results
were far different. Passing rates on every test
except fourth-grade math soared. On the
fifth-grade science test, for example, Umphrey
Lee ranked third among Texas elementary schools
with more than 90 percent of its students from
low-income families.

Fifth-graders must pass math and reading tests to
be eligible for automatic promotion to sixth
grade, so they get a chance to take the test
again. Statewide, no more than than half of
re-testers pass on their first try. At Umphrey
Lee, 85 percent of the math re-testers and 91
percent of the reading re-testers passed. Some of
this data set off an alert in a computerized
monitoring system Dallas uses to spot unusual
jumps in test scores. It automatically looks at
each student's test results for the prior two
years and computes a predicted score for the
current year. If enough scores are much higher
than expected, the district starts an

The monitoring system can't be used for tests
that are given only in one grade, such as writing
and science in elementary school. And it doesn't
check to see if scores take an enormous drop,
which might be evidence of cheating the prior

But it was enough to trigger an investigation at
Umphrey Lee of one third-grade math test, one
fourth-grade reading test and the retests for
both reading and math in fifth grade. Teachers
who supervised the tests were questioned, as were
a random selection of students. Some of the
students said they saw nothing unusual. But
others told a far different story.

"About 20 of the STAAR math retest questions were
exactly the same as the ones we worked before the
test in Mrs. Tyler's classroom," said one student.

"Mrs. Coleman walked around the classroom and
pointed at students' answer choices," said

Investigators asked about reading and math but
were surprised when students also told them exact
questions reviewed in class were on the science
test. The fifth-grade science teacher was added
to their investigation. Eventually, the district
determined that five teachers and an
instructional coach had cheated. One teacher quit
during the investigation; the others resigned
after it was concluded.

Principal now out

Nothing in the investigative reports implicated
the principal, Tondolyn Mosley. She remained in
her job until the end of the 2013-14 school year,
when she was assigned to a new position mentoring
DISD principals. The district terminated Mosley
on Wednesday after The News started asking about
the cheating allegations.

The teachers were identified in DISD reports
obtained by The News as Brenda Singleton and
Da'Shonya Tyler, both fifth-grade teachers;
Arrkeenah Willis and Monica Benjamin, both
third-grade teachers; and Ronald Shepard, a
science and social studies teacher. The
instructional coach was identified as Lenora

Mosley, the teachers and the instructional coach
could not be reached for comment. All the
teachers, including Shepard, who was named the
school's Teacher of the Year in 2012, denied
violating any testing rules, according to the
reports. The next year, however, test scores
fell. For example, the fifth-grade science
passing rate dropped from 97 percent in 2012-13
to 15 percent last school year.

While the teachers are gone from Dallas schools,
their teaching certificates are still active,
according to state records. Dallas gave the Texas
Education Agency an initial report naming the
teachers but hasn't given the agency the full
report, which was finished in October. When it
arrives, state officials will decide whether
sanctions should be brought against the teachers.

Dallas ISD has not changed district procedures as
a result of what happened at Umphrey Lee.

"We have implemented several changes to our test
security procedures through the years.
Unfortunately, it seems that regardless of the
additional measures, there are still attempts to
cheat the system," Dahlander said. "Our analysis
for identifying anomalies is one of the only ones
used by school districts in Texas, so perhaps we
should make it a point of letting staff members
know that is in place to discourage anyone from
trying to game the system."

Meanwhile, Umphrey Lee Elementary has plunged in
the state accountability ratings for the 2013-14
school year. It was the only school in Texas to
tumble from the top to the absolute bottom,
failing all four accountability indexes.
Follow Jeffrey Weiss and Matthew Haag on Twitter
at @jeffreyweissdmn and at @matthewhaag.

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