This is the second year that the Governor's Office of Student Achievement has taken a comprehensive look at Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, which are part of how state officials measure whether schools have met federal education benchmarks. In 2009, officials were alarmed at results that showed possible cheating on the CRCT at about 20 percent of Georgia's elementary and middle schools.
That report led to increased scrutiny of teachers, especially in the Atlanta area, where erasures were most prevalent. On Wednesday, Kathleen Mathers painted a brighter picture for the state Board of Education in announcing this year's findings.
State monitors were brought into the 74 schools where erasures were a severe concern. CRCT documents were placed in tamperproof envelopes after the tests were administered to deter misconduct, which occurred "primarily after hours," Mathers said.
"Putting in the state monitors was by far the most effective thing we did last year," Mathers told the board. "There were smaller flags in every grade and every subject across the state from a year ago. We are really pleased with this data."
Mathers said less than 4 percent of schools fell under the moderate to severe categories of concern this year, compared to 10 percent last year. Tests clear of concern rose from 80 percent to 87 percent. In Atlanta, the number of schools of severe concern plummeted from 43 to three.
"That is significantly better," Mathers said. "The data speaks for itself. The 'severe' category has all but disappeared from Atlanta."
The 2009 analysis led to investigations in multiple school districts and, ultimately, a state investigation into whether cheating happened in Atlanta Public Schools. The probe created a rift in the Atlanta school board that put the system's accreditation in jeopardy with a national agency, which recently put the 49,000-student district on probation.
Dozens of educators from districts across the state have been referred to the state's Professional Standards Commission for possible revocation of their teaching licenses. The state's investigation into the Atlanta school system is expected to be completed in the next few months.
Mathers' office looked at every CRCT taken in Georgia last spring for grades 1-8. A test was flagged if it had many more erasures than the average for the student's peers.
This year, the agency is also recommending state monitors for schools that received a 'moderate concern' rating, and banning educators whose classrooms were flagged across multiple subjects from administering the 2011 CRCT. Because of the effectiveness of the monitors, Mathers said they are not likely to go away despite the state's progress.
"We're making really important decisions for children off of this data," she said. "It is absolutely appropriate to have oversight ... as far as I can tell, for the foreseeable future, they're here to stay."