The Texas Education Agency has taken on a remarkable resemblance to a soap opera over the last week – with claims of mistaken identity, whispers about vendettas and a traditionally tight clan pulled apart.
Last week, internal investigators said they had found evidence that one of the agency’s top bosses, Robert Scott, was improperly funneling state contract money to his friends. On Friday, Mr. Scott fired back, issuing his own report that claimed investigators had confused him with a colleague of the same name.
TEA investigators vigorously denied his claims, which led to still another volley of charges and countercharges.
“I think they’re trying to dig themselves out of a hole,” Mr. Scott said of his agency’s investigators.
The scandal – or nonscandal, depending on one’s perspective – has left the agency divided into accuser and accused. That’s an unusual – and uncomfortable – position for an agency used to speaking with one voice.
And it has also left some of the agency’s top officials in an unusual position. With the resignation of Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley a week ago, Mr. Scott is now TEA’s acting commissioner. That means that, as of Monday, the agency’s chief investigator, Michael Donley, now reports directly to the primary target of his investigation, Mr. Scott. […]
Read More… from TEA’s internal strife grows; Acting chief: Report that he steered money to friends is a case of mistaken ID
It’s the school district that refuses to die.
For decades, Wilmer-Hutchins ISD was an object of investigation and a subject of derision. It was, by common assent, the worst district in North Texas: miserable test scores, a chaotic school board and a string of financial problems.
But now, a year after the district’s state-induced euthanasia, some Wilmer-Hutchins residents are feeling a strange emotion: nostalgia.
“We deserve to have our own schools back,” said Faye Gafford, who leads a group trying to bring Wilmer-Hutchins back to life.
It’s been two years since Wilmer-Hutchins schools enrolled any students, and one since Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley formally and permanently shut the district’s doors. The district was merged into the neighboring Dallas school system. But Ms. Gafford and others say their students aren’t getting the attention they deserve in the bigger district.
Ms. Gafford’s group appealed to lawmakers during the last legislative session, asking them to revive Wilmer-Hutchins through a rider attached to other legislation. That didn’t work. Now, she and her allies are considering legal action. […]
Read More… from Some feel nostalgic over W-H; Group seeks to revive fallen district, says area deserves its own schools
An internal investigation has found that top officials at the Texas Education Agency improperly steered state work to their friends.
The report from the agency’s inspector general says that the problems lead all the way up to TEA’s deputy commissioner, Robert Scott, the likely choice to succeed Shirley Neeley as education commissioner.
Investigators also found that a consultant for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had an unusual influence over how grant money was divvied up.
“These contracts were not competitively bid,” the report states. “Several associated subcontracts were awarded to individuals with ties to TEA senior staff. Key participants in the contracting process do not agree as to how subcontractors were chosen.”
Mr. Scott disputes the allegations.
“I did not tell anyone to hire anyone,” Mr. Scott said Wednesday night. “There are no concrete allegations in that report that can be substantiated about wrongdoing.”
The report’s timing is awkward for the agency. Friday is Dr. Neeley’s final day as education commissioner. She announced her resignation this month after Gov. Rick Perry informed her he would not reappoint her to the post.
Unless Mr. Perry announces her successor before Monday, Mr. Scott would be the likely choice to take over as acting commissioner. […]
Read More… from TEA: Agency officials got friends contracts; Exclusive: Neeley’s likely successor, foundation adviser are named
The state’s investigation into cheating on the 2005 TAKS test has borne its first fruit.
Theresa B. Lee Academy, a Fort Worth charter school with a long history of problems, improperly tampered with the 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, state officials announced Thursday. As a result, the Texas Education Agency could launch proceedings to close the school permanently.
“I think this could be the beginning of the end,” agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said.
Lee was one of two schools highlighted last week in a Dallas Morning News investigation that found evidence of extensive cheating at a number of Texas charter schools. The two with the biggest problems, according to The News’ statistical analysis, were Lee and its sister school, Jesse Jackson Academy in Houston.
But while Lee is facing sanctions, the state investigation at Jesse Jackson Academy has concluded without finding any cheating. That’s in part because the investigation did not examine a single student answer sheet. […]
Read More… from FW school cheated, state says; Troubled charter could face closure after TAKS findings
Starting next spring, Texas schools will have to record whom students sit next to during the TAKS test, according to a set of anti-cheating reforms announced Monday.
The Texas Education Agency also will send inspectors unannounced to schools on test day, track which adults administer the tests to students and create an honor code for test takers.
The moves come one week after a Dallas Morning News investigation found more than 50,000 students with extremely unusual answer patterns on the 2005 and 2006 TAKS test. Experts say those patterns strongly suggest cheating by students or school personnel.
“The findings were definitely troubling and certainly raised suspicions,” TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said Monday.
But the agency will not take the step researchers say would be most effective at deterring cheating: scrambling the order of test questions so students can’t copy off each other. […]
Read More… from Taking down TAKS cheaters; Reforms include inspections at schools, honor code for students
The TAKS test is dead. Long live the TAKS!
When legislators went home to their districts last month, the temptation must have been strong to proclaim loudly they had killed off the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Anti-testing sentiment in Texas reached new levels over the past year, and legislators had spent the previous months lined up to take whacks at the hated TAKS.
But the measure they ended up passing, Senate Bill 1031, doesn’t quite match that rhetoric.
First, the TAKS lives on as before in grades three through 8. And in high school, the TAKS is simply being swapped out for a network of 12 new tests. They’ll be given at the end of specific classes, like U.S. History or English II, and tied to their content. Students will have to average a certain score across the tests to earn a high school diploma.
Is this a revolution or something smaller? There’s a lot we don’t know at this point. The first new tests won’t be given until 2012, and there are a lot of decisions to be made between now and then.
The bill still awaits the governor’s signature. But as long as it marches forward, here’s what we can safely assume. […]
Read More… from COLUMN: Legislators left unanswered questions on new state tests
State may switch to online tests Page 12A One possible path to cutting cheating on exams is digital: switching to computerized testing. The state has conducted several experiments with online tests, and officials have said some state tests – although probably not the TAKS – could be administered solely online within two years. Without a […]
Read More… from Faking the Grade: Day 3 sidebars and graphics
By Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker Staff Writers Page 1A Last of three parts In 1975, a social scientist named Donald Campbell came up with the idea that would eventually be called Campbell’s Law. He wrote like an academic, but you could boil the concept down to this: The higher the stakes, the more […]
Read More… from Faking the Grade: Efforts to stop cheating often fall short; More emphasis has been placed on TAKS, not on catching copiers
Page 6A A group of charter schools approved controversially in 1998 are, among all their other problems, a significant source of the state’s cheating. The 100-plus schools were approved at a rambunctious meeting of a State Board of Education committee. That’s when board members rejected staff recommendations and decided to give a charter school – […]
Read More… from Faking the Grade: Schools had issues from Day 1; Many troubled charters were hastily approved over TEA objections
By Joshua Benton and Holly K. Hacker Staff Writers Page 1A Second of three parts Last year, 53 sophomores took the math TAKS test at Houston’s Jesse Jackson Academy. Two stood out from the crowd. They were the only two whose answer sheets don’t show evidence of cheating. Jackson – a Houston charter school with […]
Read More… from Faking the Grade: At charters, cheating’s off the charts; Loosely regulated schools among state’s worst offenders on TAKS