The media-focused PR machine at the State Department loved Sanders-Clyde Elementary School in Charleston.
While public schools serving low-income and minority children across South Carolina had long been stagnant, Sander-Clyde looked like a brilliant exception.
In press release after press release the Department hailed the uncharacteristic gains in student performance at Sanders-Clydde, suggesting that public schools might break from decades of stagnation and a widening race and poverty gap.
The Department heaped awards, recognitions and distinctions on Sanders-Clyde, and in a short time the school jumped from an “F” to a “B” in absolute ratings, and earned an “A” for its improvement pace.
But it was all a big lie. The principal was cheating by altering the students’ annual PACT tests.
Diette Courrege of the Charleston Post and Courier has been investigating the cheating and on Monday wrote another insightful story:
“The State Law Enforcement Division opened an investigation last week into Sanders-Clyde Elementary School in Charleston County after the high-achieving, high-poverty school saw its Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test scores plunge an average of 31 percentage points. The drop happened when officials put testing monitors there this spring, a first for the school.”
A big part of the problem was the state’s own unwillingness to enforce basic test security, even after there were suspicions of cheating:
“Once state monitors arrive at schools, their oversight is fairly limited for a number of reasons. The state has about 10 monitors for roughly 1,100 schools statewide, and they try to go to as many schools as possible. A site visit likely would involve one official and last one day. Monitors might visit classrooms and the test storage area, talk to the school’s testing coordinator and check on whether teachers were paying attention to students taking the exam, Jones said.”
The cheating and deception at Cylde-Sanders speaks of a much larger probelm. The same state Department that is tasked with creating the test, administering the test and grading the test, also publicizes the results of that test. The Department’s budget is tied to a belief that ever-more educational spending is leading to big gains in student achievement. Sadly, this is false; and is most vividly demonstrated by the state’s 55 percent on time graduation rate.
The same Department is also the driving force behind legislation passed this year that will further weaken the state test and state standards. Without any real checks and balances, the Department has no incentive for rigorous integrity in student assessment – and without school choice, most of the low-income students at Sander-Cylde have no choice but to linger in a failing public school.