4 Georgia schools punished for cheating

ATLANTA --- Nearly 20 elementary schools across the state would be scrambling to cope with a cheating scandal had the state used a more common standard for spotting problems, according to the head of the investigation.


Kathleen Mathers, the executive director of the Governor's Office of Student Achieve- ment, told members of the State Board of Education on Wednesday that her office looked at only the most extreme instances of scores that were outside the range of statewide averages for improvement, a statistical tool called 3.5 points of standard deviation.

Because this was the first cheating investigation, she said she decided to look at cases only where the evidence was overwhelming and that next time her staff would use 2 points of standard deviation.

Had she used the stricter standard, she said about 20 of the state's 600-plus elementary schools offering the retest would have come under suspicion. As it was, only four did.

"In subsequent investigations, I don't anticipate that our starting point will be as generous," she said.

State Board member Larry Winter, a forensic accountant, said he often uses such statistical tools in rooting out fraud.

"The evidence is extremely compelling," he said.

Four Georgia elementary schools caught cheating on a 2008 standardized math test, including Burroughs-Molette Elementary School in Glynn County, will be punished as the result of a decision Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The scores will be invalidated, parents will get letters detailing the incident, and educators will tailor a math-instruction plan for each of the students.

In Glynn County's case, central-office administrators will have to monitor future tests and revise its policies so that teachers and clerks no longer have access to students' answer sheets.

The board met as a committee and agreed to formally accept today the recommendations of the Governor's Office of School Improvement which conducted the investigation.