wesley cheating story

Here’s my story from today’s front page, and I happen to think it’s a pretty good one:
Houston’s Wesley Elementary may be the most celebrated school in Texas.
When George W. Bush, running for governor in 1994, wanted to declare education his No. 1 priority, he went to Wesley, where desperately poor students outscored children in the wealthiest suburbs.
When Oprah Winfrey wanted to promote a school that “defied the odds,” she took her cameras to Wesley, which has been the subject of dozens of flattering profiles.
But a Dallas Morning News investigation has found strong evidence that at least some of the success at Wesley and two affiliated schools come from cheating.
“You’re expected to cheat there,” said Donna Garner, a former teacher at Wesley who said her fellow teachers instructed her on how to give students answers while administering tests. “There’s no way those scores are real.”
The News’ analysis found troubling gaps in test scores at Wesley, Highland Heights, and Osborne elementaries, which are all in the Acres Homes neighborhood in Houston. Scores swung wildly from year to year. Schools made jarring test-score leaps from mediocre to stellar in a year’s time.
After The News shared its findings with Houston officials Thursday, Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra issued a written statement. “We have reviewed the anomalies in the test scores of the Acres Home schools as pointed out by The Dallas Morning News, and we agree that these anomalies identify performance that is highly questionable.”
If the test scores are to be believed, students at those schools lose much of their academic abilities as soon as they leave elementary school.
There’s also a sidebar:
The fact there might be cheating at Wesley Elementary is not news to Houston officials.
In June 2003, former Wesley teacher Donna Garner stood before a meeting of the Houston school board and directly accused officials of cheating at Wesley. “I was instructed on how to cheat and that the expectation was that I would cheat,” she said, according to a copy of her speech.
District officials pledged an investigation. But it has taken the district a year and a half just to hire an outside law firm to do the investigating. The lengthy delays could make it harder to catch cheaters.
“When a great deal of time has passed between the incident and the investigation, people forget things,” said Suzanne Marchman, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency. “And what happened on test day is not as clear as it was eight months ago or a year ago.”
Central Texans, I’ll be talking about the story on KTSA 550 AM at 1:05 this afternoon, should you want to hear how my radio voice differs from my in-person voice.
Update: Here’s the Houston paper, following my story. I have to admire the paper’s guts for including this quote from the Houston school board member who represents Acres Homes: “It is an embarrassment to hear from the Dallas Morning News what’s going on in Houston.”

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