integrity report

AJC analysis: Suspicious scores found widely, including in NYC

An analysis of nearly 15,000 districts’ test scores turned up suspicious patterns that suggested that some cheating might be taking place in New York City schools.

The analysis was conducted by a team of reporters and researchers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the newspaper that covered last year’s revelations about a far-ranging cheating scandal in Atlanta’s schools. The team looked at changes in students’ test scores from year to year, reasoning that large increases or decreases in groups of students’ test scores would be unlikely without an unusual intervention such as cheating.

The analysis does not identify instances of cheating, only places and times when cheating is considered more likely to have occurred.

Most of New York’s 32 school districts fell well within the normal range, with around 5 percent of classes showing unusually large score climbs or falls. But in a few places, the analysis detected swings in more than 10 percent of classes, a level that experts told the AJC team was highly improbable under normal circumstances.

In Brooklyn’s District 16, for example, 7.95 to 12.82 percent of classes between 2009 and 2011 showed suspicious test score swings. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of classes flagged in Manhattan’s District 2, which includes many middle-class students, ranged from 7.41 to 12.5 — significantly higher than in neighboring districts.

The newspaper crunched the numbers for individual schools but published only district-level data online. One of several stories about the analysis hints at school-level findings for the city. It says, “Though high-poverty city schools were more likely to have suspicious tests, improbable scores also showed up in an exclusive public school for the gifted on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

The AJC analysis comes at a time when New York State officials have turned their attention to test security, galvanized by cheating scandals in Atlanta and elsewhere. Last week, the state for the first time appointed a test integrity czar whose job is to lead a team in rooting out cheating through on-the-ground investigations and statistical analysis. But a proposal to fund a sophisticated tool to detect likely cheating, erasure analysis, appears poised to be shut out of the state budget.

City Department of Education officials have long maintained that the city’s test security practices exceed what is required by the state, although the officials have said more could be done — at a steep cost — to ensure that city test scores are sound.

Unlike “value-added” analyses of the type that will factor into New York’s teacher evaluations, the AJC analysis does not control for students’ demographics or even assure that the same students are in the tested groups each year. Gary Miron, an education researcher who reviewed the data, said the analysis was less informative than one conducted last year by USA Today into test scores in Washington, D.C.

“We all need to be concerned about cheating and its implications,” Miron wrote on The Answer Sheet, a Washington Post blog that is frequently critical of school reform efforts. “At the same time, we need to be leery of sensational attempts to secure headlines with weak and incomplete analyses.”

The analysis found red flags twice as often at charter schools, but the district data do not reflect charter schools’ scores.

Eric Gordon, the head of Cleveland’s schools, issued a striking rejoinder to suggestions that cheating had taken place in his district.

“In all candor, if I thought we had a widespread cheating problem in the district, I would expect our achievement to look quite a bit better than it does,” Gordon told the Dayton Daily News.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”