Streams

Two Brooklyn Schools Examined for Cheating

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 08:12 AM

Allegations of cheating at two of the city's highest-performing public elementary schools have emerged, after teachers at the middle school that many of their students feed into noticed sharp discrepancies between students' performance and their previous test scores, Anna M. Phillips reports in The New York Times on Wednesday.

Students at Intermediate School 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who came from Public School 257 John F. Hylan in Williamsburg and Public School 31 Samuel F. Dupont in Greenpoint, showed a steep decline in scores on standardized English and math exams after just one year. According to The Times:

“In some cases, students with perfect scores dropped from being in the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile,” one staff member at the school said. “It was impossible.”

According to The Times, last year P.S. 31's "math scores were nearly perfect, and 90 percent of its students passed the English test, more than 40 points above the citywide average. To celebrate, staff members tied a sign to the building: 'School Report Card P.S. 31 is #1 in New York City.'” The school has 550 students, in PreK to fifth grade.

At P.S. 257, where most of the preK to fifth-grade students are black or Hispanic and poor, "62 percent of the children at the school had a score of proficient or higher on the state English exam."

But that proficiency was not evident at I.S. 318, where so many scores showed so much of a drop between fifth and sixth grades that nearly 60 percent of the teachers at the middle school were rated below average or low on their teacher data reports, which were released earlier this year. The teacher rankings are based in large part on expectations of improvement by students in test scores from one year to the next.

Teachers at I.S. 318, who spoke anonymously, said they became suspicious, The Times reports:

... a teacher at I.S. 318 said there were glaring discrepancies between some of her students’ class work and their exam scores. One sixth grader, a boy from P.S. 257, scored proficient on the state English exam in fifth grade last year, but is a recent immigrant and speaks English poorly.

“That was a big red flag,” the teacher said.

This spring, during the exam, this student asked her to give him definitions of words, which is tantamount to cheating, the teacher said. Other students said teachers at their previous schools had pointed out incorrect answers, the teacher said.

“They never said the teachers told them it’s A, B, C or D, but they did say the teachers would tell them if they got something wrong,” she said. One student told her this had occurred throughout elementary school.

I.S. 318 was the center of attention earlier this spring when its middle-school students went on to win the national high school chess championship. Yet the school was also singled out by The Daily News for its low teacher rankings, and it was given a C on its school progress reports for the last two years because of the drop in student progress. The Times article notes:

Data provided by city education officials showed that of the fifth graders from P.S. 257 who went on to I.S. 318, 9 percent experienced unusually steep English test score declines, compared with a citywide average of 0.6 percent. Of their classmates coming from P.S. 31, 1.8 percent also had steep declines, and these trends continued on the math exam as well.

The office of the special commissioner for investigation, Richard J. Condon, confirmed that it was looking into the cheating allegations, and a spokeswoman said “there may be other schools involved.”

In other standardized testing news, both SchoolBook and Gotham Schools report that parents are taking out their ire over last month's state English and math exams by participating in boycotts and organizing other parents to have their children "opt out" of the ongoing field tests being conducted in city schools to try out new questions for future testing.

And who is Mitt Romney relying on to help him shape his education policies? Education Week on Tuesday had a full list of his advisers.

The city's Panel for Educational Policy meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the William Howard Taft Educational Campus, 240 East 172nd Street, the Bronx.

Also at 6 p.m, the mayoral candidate Tom Allon, a former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, will deliver an education policy address, "2020 Vision: What New York's Education System Can Look Like With Real Reform," at the Theresa Lang Student and Community Center at Arnhold Hall, N.Y.U., at 55 West 13th Street. Attendance is by invitation only, but questions are being accepted on Facebook and Twitter, @TomAllon4Mayor.

And TEP, a charter school that pays teachers a $125,000 starting salary, will hold another information session for prospective teachers at 6 p.m. at its Upper Manhattan campus. You can find out more about the session, at The Equity Project Charter School, at www.tepcharter.org/session-for-teachers.php.

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