Mary Levy is a veteran civil rights lawyer and budget analyst in Washington, D.C., who has reviewed developments in the D.C. Public schools for more than 30 years. She wrote the following description of the D.C. cheating scandal, which was revealed by USA Today in March 2011 but never subject to a full and independent investigation:

Re: the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General’s “investigation” of cheating in the DC Public Schools on D.C. standardized tests

It is always interesting to watch power and ideology corrupting people’s judgment, in this case the belief that Michelle Rhee’s approach to education reform must be shown to be effective. There have been no meaningful investigations of the evidence of widespread cheating on DC’s state tests between 2008 and 2010. The ED IG’s statement implies that he relied on the DC IG, who only investigated one school. How could either know about the 102 other DCPS schools flagged for possible cheating? And why is the Department of Education so casual about test integrity? Why did Arne Duncan not ask his IG for a broader investigation?

I’ve studied DCPS data, policies, budget, and history for over 30 years. People with personal knowledge of what occurred during the testing aren’t talking to me any more than to anyone else, but my own data analysis supports the need for a real investigation. Among the top 10 DCPS erasure schools (over one-third of their classrooms flagged over a three year period), scores plummeted at all but one by 2010. At four-fifths of the top 20 erasure schools, scores fell by ten percentage points or more. These are schools with one quarter or more of their classrooms flagged. The bottom dropped out by chance at all those schools?

Contrary to Michelle Rhee’s assertion of “dozens and dozens of schools [with] “very steady gains” or even “some dramatic gains that were maintained,” DC CAS test scores rose significantly after 2008 at only a small number of schools (I counted). Ironically, several of those have been closed or are on the current closing list. Security was only tightened gradually, and is still vulnerable to exploitation, so we’re not at the end of the possibilities even now.

Over the months of preparing the Frontline documentary broadcast on Tuesday, January 7, John Merrow tried very hard to break through on investigating the evidence of cheating. He asked me and my colleagues for contacts and data often, and he actively and persistently sought out witnesses. But witnesses aren’t talking. They’re afraid. People in authority tend to dislike and distrust not only whistleblowers, but critics, even the friendly ones. Principals in DCPS serve at will, and the IMPACT evaluation system makes it easy to terminate teachers who displease their superiors. And after all, since cheating is so unimportant to the Department of Education and the leadership in DC, those who could bear witness can expect no result but retaliation.

Mary Levy
January 9, 2013