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Iowa Watchdog

Apologies to Letterman: Top 10 quotes from Davenport schools cheating scandal


DES MOINES – Iowa leaders have taken over an investigation into the state’s first publicly reported case of cheating on the standardized tests that determine the overall performance of schools.

Officials with the Davenport Community School District recently turned over to the state materials from their investigation of irregular erasures and unusual jumps in tests scores at Madison Elementary School.

The district found high erasure rates on the answer sheets of students in grades 3-5 in reading and math but not science, which is not counted towards the school’s performance under No Child Left Behind. The federal law requires schools to meet yearly targets or face sanctions.

Madison Elementary School exams were widely tampered with to boost scores.

Madison Elementary School exams were widely tampered with to boost scores.

The average rate of erasures at the school hovered at 7.6 percent, compared to the 1.25 percent average of other Davenport schools, according to Arthur Tate, district superintendent.  District officials found the tampering increased Madison’s reading scores, for example, from 63 percent passing to 92 percent, according to emails between the district and state obtained by Iowa Watchdog.

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Despite its efforts, the district has yet to find who tampered with the exams.

After sifting through hundreds of emails, Iowa Watchdog weeded out the noise to provide readers with the top highlights, whether they be crazy quotes or add light to the cheating scandal.

  1. “I don’t know why you would need to send any evidence to us,” Iowa Department of Education staffer Tom Deeter said to Tate in a March 29 email.

  2. “You are the perfect ‘community schools’ model and are having incredible results,” Tate told Madison principal Sara Gott, who took the position almost two years ago. It’s unclear whether the email was sent prior to officials uncovering the cheating. Tate complimented Gott’s throughout the emails, calling her an example for the rest of the district.

  3. “We looked at 100 percent of the reading scores. We didn’t do all of the math scores. It wasn’t an issue,” Tate said in a recent interview with Iowa Watchdog. He previously told Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, in an April email that there was “obvious tampering” with math.

  4. “It’s not possible for us to gain the kind of investigatory oversight in the state to uncover irregularities on the scale that we need to … The State of Iowa is going to have to assert its responsibility to allow us to ensure data quality over the assessment system in order for this to be corrected,” Glass said regarding how the state handles test oversight. It’s one of the only, if not only, in the nation to leave testing oversight up to school districts instead of the state.

  5. “We are making steady and rapid progress on reaching a resolution on what the department’s role is going to be at this time,” Glass said in an interview Wednesday. The state has no policies that lays out procedures for such investigations.

  6.  “The principal has obtained a lawyer and the legal dance has started with our attorney,” Tate said in an April email to Glass. Gott has not been removed from her position during the investigation nor has she been publicly accused of tampering with tests.

  7. “We do have sufficient safeguards. We felt pretty good that we did. We were very trusting … I don’t see the need now for policy changes. I had a good group to say what are we supposed to be doing and we feel pretty good about it,” Tate said in an interview with Iowa Watchdog regarding what changes the district plans to make to avoid future cheating.

  8. “My heart cannot believe that any teacher in the building would do something like this. My heart led me to sending my daughters to Madison when the rest of the world told me it was a mistake,” Madison parents Ann and Bruce Berger wrote in an April email to Tate and Gott.

  9. “Continue to stand up for the need to change for the sake of our students and their families. Continue to explain the reasons for the requirements. Advise me about things that need to be altered to better the chances for improved achievement,” Tate wrote in a November email to Gott.

  10. “Please ask anyone you tell to keep this confidential,” Tate wrote in an April email to Glass. Throughout the investigation and email exchanges, Tate repeatedly asked to keep the matter under wraps.

    Contact Sheena Dooley at Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for, where this story first appeared.

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