Cheating at GUSD? No way, officials say

The Morgan Hill Unified School District also made the list. It’s pegged as a category “C,”, denoting a district that had 5 percent, but less than 10 percent of its classes flagged in at least one year since 2008.

Out of 69,000 public schools examined across the nation, the Gilroy Unified School District was one of hundreds found to have high concentrations of suspicious test scores that indicate cheating, according to the results of a controversial study conducted and recently published by the newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“A tainted and largely unpoliced universe of untrustworthy test results underlies bold changes in education policy, the findings show,” the AJC writes. “The tougher teacher evaluations many states are rolling out, for instance, place more weight than ever on tests.”

While the analysis doesn’t prove cheating, it found troubling patterns in hundreds of cities, according to the AJC’s story. Those patterns resemble “early indicators of the biggest cheating scandal in American history,” which made national headlines last year when it was discovered that half of the elementary and middle schools in Atlanta, Ga., falsified test results.

Gilroy’s School Board doesn’t take the accusation lightly.

“I feel very confident in the work that we’ve done in our district. Our results are proven by the work that we put into improving student achievement,” said GUSD Trustee Jaime Rosso. “As far as their report is concerned, it’s statistical – they’re looking at big jumps and changes in achievement and certainly we’ve had that here in this district… that’s not reason enough to cast a negative light on our district.”

The AJC uses five categories to classify schools that were examined in the study. GUSD falls into category “B” – the second worst of the five categories. Category “B” denotes “a district that had 10 percent or more of its classes flagged (for suspicion) in at least one year since 2008, but does not exhibit the pattern seen in Atlanta.”

Three other California Central Coast school districts fall into category “B,” including Greenfield Union Elementary, Santa Rita and Santa Cruz City Schools. Roughly 80 schools in California were identified as belonging to this category.

AJC defines “class” as a group of students in the same school from one year to the next. A “flag” indicates a test score shift outside the norm.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District also made the list. It’s lumped into category “C,”, denoting a district that had 5 percent, but less than 10 percent of its classes flagged in at least one year since 2008, according to the AJC.

Results of the AJC study can be viewed online via an interactive map depicting districts found to demonstrate high concentrations of “suspect test scores.

For GUSD, AJC calculates the following:

• 15.38 percent of classes flagged in 2008

• 9.62 percent of classes flagged in 2009

• 11.11 percent of classes flagged in 2010

• 7.41 percent of classes flagged in 2011

How did this study come about?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the only major daily newspaper in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Ga. After the AJC’s analysis of test scores led to the state’s investigation and 2011 findings of widespread cheating in Atlanta schools, a national testing expert “suggested we could do the same thing on a nationwide scale,” the paper writes. 

A team of three reporters and two database specialists spent five months collecting databases of standardized test scores in those grades for 69,000 schools, in 14,743 districts in 49 states, the AJC writes. The 50th state – Nebraska – didn’t have usable data because it didn’t give a statewide standardized test until last year, according to the AJC.

In response to the study, GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores and the Gilroy Board of Education issued a statement Wednesday. Flores requested the statement be printed in its entirety. The statement was not edited for content:

“In recent months, the Atlantic Journal Constitution (AJC) newspaper released several stories about cheating on state tests in the Atlanta public schools. The AJC decided to expand its investigation and completed a computerized statistical analysis of 69,000 schools district’s test scores across the country. The Gilroy Unified School District, along with many other districts in California, appeared on the AJC list of school districts. The AJC questions the progress of these school districts, particularly, in light of their own experience in Atlanta.

It is ironic that Gilroy Unified is singled out on the AJC list for making significant progress which the AJC conjectures is statistically improbable. We would welcome anyone from Atlanta to come visit our schools and observe for themselves the great job that the teachers, administrators and support staff are doing on a daily and hourly basis to ensure that students in the Gilroy Unified School District continue to make steady progress towards our goal of all students becoming proficient or advanced on the California Standards Tests. The excellent progress being made in our district is the direct result of many different strategies and a district-wide focus on improvement lead by our Board of Education. We began this process by seeking out promising practices in other school districts and implementing these in our district. Our approach has included;

• carefully planned instructional strategies designed to help all students master the standards with specialized programs/approaches for subgroups of students such as English Learners

• faithfully implementing adopted curriculum programs

• quality teaching day in and day out

• intervention programs offered during the school day to students who are below grade level

• strong teacher collaboration at each school and across the district through grade level and department meetings

• student progress monitoring, i.e., daily and weekly assessments and quarterly benchmarks, to inform instruction

• professional development for teachers

• use of highly effective technology-based programs and equipment

• afterschool programs, Sat. and summer programs.

All of these strategies have lead to steady increases in student achievement in our district. Additionally, we are a Character Counts! district, in which we have embraced the six pillars of Character Counts! – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Consistent with this, we have strict testing protocols that staff follow and the testing process is carefully monitored from the beginning to the end to ensure that ethical procedures are implemented at all times. We are confident that GUSD’s test results reflect the actual progress made by our students and schools.”

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