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Putting the genie back in the bottle

We once knew a prosecuting attorney who would purposely introduce improper evidence in a criminal trial, knowing in advance the presiding trial judge would admonish the jury to disregard the comment or evidence. The prosecutor’s tactic was simple: “You can chase the skunk out of the courtroom, but the odor still remains.”

Officials of the White Hall School District encountered a similar problem last week when the district was listed as one of some 20 Arkansas school districts included in a nationwide investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper examined Benchmark test results for 70,000 public schools and found high concentrations of scores in school systems. While the study didn’t prove cheating, it indicated test scores in hundreds of cities followed a pattern that, in Atlanta, indicated cheating in multiple schools.

Superintendent Larry Smith contacted three Little Rock television stations that listed some of the Arkansas districts, including 21 in Arkansas, and asked that they broadcast a clarification that White Hall was not accused of being among 200 districts accused of cheating on test scores.

School officials wanted the public to know “the White Hall School District was among the more than 98 percent of school districts across the country that have no indication of cheating on our Benchmark exams,” Smith emphasized in the message sent to the stations.

“In fact, our district had a zero percent variation from expected test scores in two of the four years examined. In the other two years, the district was well below the expected 5 percent variation in scores due to what is termed ‘statistical noise’ occurring in all studies of this size,” he added.

Unfortunately, some of the broadcast outlets in our state picked up the Atlanta story and present it in such a way that a positive story for White Hall was presented in a negative light.

We are not sure about “statistical noise” in the study, but the necessary anomalies cited in the Atlanta story didn’t surface in its study of the White Hall district.