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    dR Dazzler
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    Jan 2010

    Default Under Bloomberg, a Sharp Rise in Accusations of Cheating by Educators

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    Annual allegations of test-tampering and grade-changing by educators have more than tripled since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of New York City’s school system, outpacing a broader increase in complaints of adult misconduct in schools during the same period, according to the special commissioner of investigation.
    The commissioner, Richard J. Condon, attributed the rise both to the expansion of the school system — its budget has more than doubled, to $24 billion from $11.5 billion when he took office in 2002, and the number of schools has grown to 1,700 from 1,200 — and to the higher stakes attached to standardized tests and classroom grades. The city’s performance bonuses, teacher evaluations, school progress reports and decisions on closings are all increasingly tied to student performance.

    “When you start giving money to the schools to do well, that’s another incentive to appear to do well if you are not doing well,” said Mr. Condon, a plain-spoken former New York police commissioner. “If a lot of the evaluation is based on how the students do, that’s an incentive for the teachers to try to help the students do well, even in ways that are unacceptable.”

    But the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in an interview that he did not believe that the increase in allegations meant that more misconduct was taking place. Instead, he credited improved reporting, driven by things like stronger whistle-blower protections and the ease of sending an anonymous complaint by e-mail. He noted that Mr. Condon proved only a few cases of cheating each year.

    “People are reporting things, that’s fine; we want people to report things,” Mr. Walcott said. But, he added, “people could be reporting for real and not necessarily real reasons.”

    Mr. Walcott’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, went further, saying, “When there is conflict that exists in a school — sometimes between teachers, sometimes between teachers and administration — it is not unusual that there are reports and allegations made as a result of that.”

    Created more than 20 years ago, Mr. Condon’s office functions independently from the Education Department and fields all accusations of adult misconduct in the 1.1-million-student school system, including sexual abuse, theft and rarer circumstances like the drowning death of a sixth grader on a field trip last year. Over all, the office received 3,336 complaints in 2010, more than double the 1,531 it received in 2003.

    The office’s 38 investigators spend much of their time on cases they are required to take by law, including conflict of interest and whistle-blower retaliation, and look into nearly all sexual misconduct claims, which accounted for about 20 percent of the total last year. Roughly another 10 percent of cases involve theft by employees and contractors.

    As for cheating, there were 225 complaints last year, up from 68 in 2003; this year is on a pace to exceed that, with 155 allegations through the end of July.

    Since Mr. Condon was appointed in 2002, a vast majority of the 1,252 accusations of test-tampering and grade-changing by educators he has received have been referred back to the department’s in-house investigators; city officials last week would not provide information about the disposition of those cases. Of the 62 cheating cases that Mr. Condon’s office has investigated, only 13 had been substantiated.

    Cheating investigations in New York, some critics contend, have been hampered by the fact that many student answer sheets are stored for only a year after the test is administered, and by the lack of routine erasure analysis, which has played a central role in detecting cheating in Atlanta, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

    Mr. Condon’s predecessor, Edward F. Stancik, used erasure analysis conducted by the department in several extensive investigations.

    The department says the school system’s practice of checking all tests for unusual erasures ended before Mr. Bloomberg took control of the schools in June 2002. But Harold O. Levy, who was schools chancellor until a few months after the mayor gained control, said, “Erasure analysis is a key part of test integrity, and under my administration we maintained it and grew it.”



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