Taking Steps to Eliminate Cheating

As Superintendent of Texas' largest school district, I expect a heavy level of media scrutiny of the decisions I make and whether the students of the Houston Independent School District are being served well in our city's schools. The scrutiny and criticism comes with the territory and I believe it is healthy in a democratic society.

But I am concerned that a story headlined "Signs of Cheating at HISD" on the front page of Thursday's Houston Chronicle may paint the 13,000 hard-working HISD teachers in an unfair light, unjustly calling into question their ethics. As you read the story, I respectfully ask you to be mindful of one thing: This is a story based on a substantiated finding of cheating by one teacher during the 2010-2011 school year and by two teachers at one school during the 2009-2010 school year. There were two additional cases this past school year in which teachers were found to have offered inappropriate assistance to elementary school students, but were not found to have intentionally engaged in cheating. These findings were made by independent law firms that HISD hired to conduct these investigations to ensure they were pursued vigorously by professionals with no conflicts of interest. HISD does not tolerate cheating and the employees found to have engaged in such behavior will not be in Houston classrooms this fall.

Although we have not yet eliminated cheating from every classroom in HISD, there is no question that our students' scores are more reliable now than ever before. I believe in my heart that the vast majority of HISD teachers would never consider cheating their students of a quality education.

For HISD to have any instances of cheating perpetrated by our employees is unacceptable. In recent years, HISD has taken significant steps to ensure the integrity of our testing procedures. These steps go far beyond the testing security measures employed elsewhere. HISD staff shared all of this information with the Houston Chronicle. Many of these facts were not included in the news article. These significant facts include:

  • HISD teachers are not permitted to administer the TAKS exam to their own students in the subjects they teach.
  • HISD secures test documents on each campus in locked rooms monitored by video cameras.
  • HISD proactively asked the Texas Education Agency to analyze student answer sheets for possible signs of testing improprieties.

Because of these and other safeguards we have in place, our community can trust that HISD's fantastic test scores that produced a 9 percentage point increase in the number of students passing all subjects of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills were the result of hard work by dedicated teachers and the students they inspired. I know you join me in applauding their hard work.