By John Schaffner

A blue-ribbon panel formed by the Atlanta Education Fund to oversee an investigation of possible cheating on state tests in 58 Atlanta Public Schools has hired a firm known nationally for the same type of testing analysis used by the state to identify the suspect schools.

At the request of the Atlanta Board of Education, the Atlanta Education Fund formed the blue-ribbon panel to commission an independent investigation into the possibility of cheating to raise student scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests last spring.

On Friday March 12, that Atlanta oversight panel announced it had hired Caveon Test Security, a small Utah-based company which is considered to be expert in the type of analysis called data forensics. The firm was expected to begin its work during the week of March 15.

The oversight panel expects to have the firm’s recommendations on how to improve Atlanta’s testing program by April 20, well in advance of the state’s deadline for a final investigative report of May 14.

Atlanta Education Fund was commissioned by the Atlanta Public Schools administration tol retain an investigative team to analyze student answer sheets and attempt to determine what caused erasures reported by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. The panel will report its findings to the school board and recommend any changes it believes are needed for future tests.

The state reported that 191 Georgia schools required investigation because they showed unusual patterns of erasures on the tests. The largest number of schools in a single state system were in the Atlanta Public Schools system. However, no Buckhead school was considered to be suspect of any major problem in the testing scandal.

The tests are taken by students in the first through eighth grades and are used to help determine whether schools meet federal benchmarks.

The blue ribbon panel is chaired by Gary Price, market managing partner of business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who said it studied several firms before selecting Caveon, which had had experience working with 14 states, which gave references on the firm’s behalf.

As part of the investigation, the company will travel to Indianapolis to view Atlanta’s CRTC test answer sheets, which are secured in a warehouse controlled by CTB-McGraw Hill, the testing contractor.

The panel may hire a second firm when Caveon’s data-based analysis comes to a close to conduct in-depth interviews at schools, which is not Caveon’s expertise.

“It is essential that this process be above board and transparent, and that’s why we have asked a respected group of civic and business leaders to oversee the process and report their findings,” said Bill McCargo, president of the education fund.

“This will be a thorough investigation. We will ensure that we have a testing process in April unclouded by suspicions and reassure the public that future testing is an accurate portrayal of student achievement.”

  • “The work that we will do is of critical importance to the school system and to the entire city,” Price said. “Without the public’s confidence, the school system simply cannot do its job.”
  • Price said the panel’s task “will be to ensure that the Atlanta Public Schools has best-in-class testing processes, with the goal of ensuring that the upcoming test results are unassailable”

    “We need to let the facts guide us in doing what is ultimately best for the students of the Atlanta Public Schools,” he said.

    Other members of the panel are: LaChandra Butler Burks, chair, Atlanta Board of Education; Jack Capers, partner, King & Spalding; Curley Dossman, president, Georgia Pacific Foundation; Ponder Harrison, part owner, Allegiant Air; Gail Hayes, associate director, Annie E. Casey Foundation Atlanta Civic Site; Milton Jones, managing partner, Integrated Capital Strategies LLC; Ingrid Saunders Jones, vice president of the Coca-Cola Co.; Susan Pease Langford, partner at Peck, Shaffer & Williams LLP; Dennis Lockhart, president, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Helene Lollis, president, Pathbuilders, Inc.; Thelma Malone, vice president, Atlanta PTA; Penny McPhee, president, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; John Rice, vice chairman, GE; and Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College