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CMS Found Six Instances Of Test Violations Last Year

A state investigation of Atlanta Public Schools last week found cheating on standardized tests was widespread--not by kids, but by teachers and administrators who wanted to make students look like they performed better than they did. That's raised questions about high-stakes tests in districts across the country. CMS officials say the district has never had to contend with any systematic cheating. But every year there are violations of the state's testing code of ethics. CMS won't release details of those violations. Last school year CMS investigated eleven complaints of testing violations. The district says six of them turned out to be actual violations. Chris Cobitz with CMS's Office of Accountability says most of them weren't what you normally think of as cheating. They had to do with not following testing procedures. Things like no proctor in the room or a student going to the bathroom unaccompanied. "To consider that we have 170-some-odd schools and we only had eleven investigations this year, that really speaks highly of our staff that they are doing a very good job of ensuring that they're following all the guidelines as appropriate," says Cobitz. In March, Vance high school's entire tenth grade class had to re-take a state writing assessment. And 200 students at James Martin Middle also had to re-take an EOG test given to students who failed it the first time. Cobitz won't release specifics of those violations. He says privacy laws prevent him from doing so. WFAE has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for those details and an additional four testing violations. Again, citing privacy laws Cobitz wouldn't disclose those violations and where they occurred. He described them as isolated incidents and says the most serious offense was providing inappropriate assistance on a test. Cobitz does say over the past four years there have been instances where staff members were found helping students with tests, knowing they were breaking rules. In those cases, he says CMS fired them and recommended the state take away their licenses. In Atlanta, 178 teachers and administrators are accused of falsifying tests. The state investigation found teachers and principals would erase wrong answers and replace them with the right ones. Cobitz says that can't happen here because tests don't sit around at schools. He says his office collects high school tests, scans them and scores them the same day kids take them. "So there isn't that opportunity for someone to go back in and make changes as what they tell me was going on in Atlanta," says Cobitz. He says the district encourages teachers and administrators to lodge complaints about test violations. This year the district added about 50 new tests to begin the process of tying teacher pay to test results. Critics worry this will put more pressure on teachers to cheat.