U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded Gov. Sonny Perdue on Wednesday for taking a tough stance on cheating and said the federal government is offering to help, if asked.
But Duncan gave no indication federal education officials would punish Georgia if some test scores turn out to be fraudulent. States report tests results as part of legal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, which governs some federal funding.
The test score scandal also isn’t likely to affect the state’s chance at a lucrative federal Race to the Top grant, he said.
“I think the governor has really stepped up proactively to get to the bottom of this,” Duncan said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I wish more states would look at this kind of thing.”
Duncan’s comments came a week after state officials announced an analysis of erasure marks on student answer sheets implicated one in five schools statewide in potential test tampering.
The state school board ordered local officials to investigate 191 schools with the most classrooms exhibiting suspicious erasures.
Another 178 schools with fewer classrooms in question must adopt new test security measures, such as increasing monitoring or rotating teachers during this spring’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Students in grades one through eight take the yearly exam.
The Atlanta district has the most schools under scrutiny, 58. That is 69 percent of elementary and middle schools.
The district is unusual in Georgia for using a complex reward system that pays bonuses as much as $2,000 to educators in schools that meet local goals.
Researchers Brian Jacob and Steven Levitt found that “relatively minor changes in teacher incentives” affected the prevalence of cheating in a 2003 study of the Chicago school district, which Duncan led at the time.
But Duncan said Wednesday that he doesn’t necessarily see pay-for-performance plans, which he has advocated, as increasing the likelihood educators will cheat. Perdue is backing a bill in the state Legislature this year that would institute such an approach to pay.
“A great educator would never dream of doing something like this,” he said. “And at the end of the day, great educators should be rewarded and need to be rewarded.”
Asked whether the federal government should require states to do more to check scores for cheating, Duncan said he wasn’t prepared to comment. He said right now, local officials are taking appropriate steps to handle Georgia’s problem, which he stressed will probably prove to involve a small percentage of educators.
“Where there’s a problem, let’s deal with it,” he said. “But again, the over, overwhelming majority of educators go into education because they feel passionate about helping students reach their potential.
“They’re not in it to cheat children,” he said, “and that’s what this is, this is lying to children.”
Members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s disaster relief organization began making plans Tuesday at the group’s North American Mission Board office in Alpharetta to send volunteers and supplies to areas of Oklahoma hit hard by Monday’s devastating tornadoes.