The newest national scandal to hit the education scene is the discovery that primary students in the Atlanta public schools system changed their answers from incorrect choices to correct ones in excess of 250,000 times on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test. The CRCT is a standardized test administered to gauge compliance with federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The exam erasures represent a rate of answer changes well in excess of the norm for this test. A single fourth grade class managed to change its answer choice to the correct one an average of 27 times.
Fifty-eight Atlanta schools were flagged for possible cheating. The school district launched an investigation which looked into the matter at just the dozen schools with the highest erasure rates. The investigation ultimately found that there was no concerted effort to boost scores. Since the release of this report in early August, the Governor of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Education have stepped in to conduct their own evaluations.
A major underlying issue here is to what extent Atlanta schools will be eligible to receive Title I money when the investigations are complete. Title I is federal money given by the federal government to states to distribute to schools with a higher population of indigent students. Any school with 40% or more student qualifying for free or reduced price school lunches is eligible for Title I grants. However, schools that receive the designation of “distinguished” may qualify for additional grant money. This designation requires improvements on the CRCT assessments and attendance over the previous three consecutive years. Of the 57 schools which received the designation for the 2009-2010 year, 39 were flagged for excessive exam erasures. Unfortunately it appears this issue may not be isolated to just this year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported on statistically unlikely increases on the CRCT assessments in both 2008 and 2009.