Michelle Rhee Responds to D.C. Testing Scandal

By Julianne Hing Mar 31, 2011

This week Michelle Rhee, the face of an education reform movement sweeping across the nation, was called to answer for a possible cheating scandal that happened under her watch as the former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools. After initially dismissing the study, Rhee acknowledged this week that cheating may indeed have taken place in her district, calling her earlier criticisms "stupid."

"It isn’t surprising," Rhee said in a statement, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved … unless someone cheated."

News of eyebrow-raising testing irregularities rocked the education world this week, and gave more ammunition to critics of the education reform movement who say that an obsession with numbers-based evaluation systems of both teachers and students has consumed education. A USA Today investigation found wildly improbable test erasure rates in some Washington, D.C. schools that led to inflated test score results. USA Today singled out Crosby Noyes Education Campus, which had posted laudable gains in its test scores and was recognized by Rhee, awarded extra money under new policies Rhee instituted, and received national accolades for what appears now to have been false academic progress.

Standardized test scanning machines scan both the final answer a student bubbled in, as well as any previous marks the student eventually erased. The USA Today investigation found that at Noyes, students were posting very high erasure rates that were far above the district average. Not only that, but a large number of the erasures were from the wrong to the right answer.

"Often times when the academic achievement rates of a district like D.C. go up, people assume that it can’t be because the kids are actually attaining higher gains in student achievement but that it’s because it’s something like cheating, which in this case was absolutely not the case," Rhee told Tavis Smiley earlier this week, insinuating that the attacks against her education reform agenda were rooted in people’s insulting low expectations of students.

The district’s acting school chancellor Kaya Henderson this week asked the inspector general to look into possible misconduct.