Nightly News | March 24, 2012
>>> we're back now with an alarming reported on our school, the possibility of widespread cheating on achievement tests on tests designed to see how well our kids are learning. the report out tonight by the atlanta journal constitution builds on the paper's earlier investigation of that city's schools. our story tonight from nbc's chief education correspondent rehema ellis.
>> reporter: last year, the atlanta struggling school -- it published a series of reports including claims the strides were too good to be true and as extraordinary as a snowstorm in july. a state wide investigation by georgia's governor, discovered systemic cheating. 178 teachers and principles from dozens of schools were implicated. the atlanta scandal prompted the newspaper to look further, analyzing 1.6 million standardized tests , from 6,000 schools nationwide. 200 districts were found to have tainted scores.
>> in some districts the scores change some --
>> reporter: in its report out today, the paper says nine districts show inconsistent cities so extreme the odds that they occurred without an intervention are more than 1 in a billion. according to the report, in patrick lewis downtown academy, 42% of fourth graders passed the state math test just before investigators began looking into possible cheaters. the following year, less than 4% of fifth graders passed. district officials acknowledged the strangeness of score changes. the paper also found as many as 20 mistakes were corrected on some exams, often in a lighter shade of pencil. the district issued a statement saying it has been zealous in our attack on cheating and places independent monitors in every school during state testing . charges the ajc's report had errors in methodology and that . secretary of education arnie duncan says the findings are unclear.
>> this encourages further explanation of these unusual patterns, but it doesn't necessarily mean that there's widespread cheating.
>> reporter: the atlanta journal constitution points out and we should too that most educators don't cheat and there is value in testing data that could help teachers determine if students have basic skills. still some experts charge that high stakes testing that links funding and jobs to student performance can lead to abuse.