Category Archives: News

When standardized test scores soared in D.C., were the gains real?

Here’s a link to the original story, written by my USA TODAY colleague Jack Gillum and I, that the NY Times column referred to.

WASHINGTON — In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its “shining stars.”

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district’s elementary schools, Noyes’ proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Eager for spotlight, but not if it’s on testing controversy

This is an interesting turn of events. The NY Times recaps USA TODAY’s efforts to speak with former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee about the high test score gains she touted during her time leading the public schools. Why won’t Michelle Rhee speak to USA TODAY, asks NYT columnist Mike Winerip.

And yes we are still waiting.

Alabama town faces its history 50 years after Freedom Rides

ANNISTON, Ala. — Walk through this small industrial town in northeast Alabama and it looks much like it did 50 years ago. The light brick one-story building on Gurnee Avenue that once housed the Greyhound bus depot is on the same corner. So is the police station in the next block.

Yet the tenor of the town where Hank Thomas was almost killed for trying to desegregate buses in the Deep South has changed.

Back then, Thomas was a 19-year-old black college student facing an angry mob of white people who firebombed and slashed the tires of the Greyhound bus in which he and other students, black and white, were riding as part of a protest known as the Freedom Rides. Police did nothing as the choking riders fled the flaming bus.

As events this summer mark the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, the iconic image of that bus is a reminder of the nation’s troubled history. For his part, Thomas returned last month to a contrite and welcoming town.

Freedom Riders educate a new generation

50 years after their famous ride for civil rights, Freedom Riders retrace their route from Nashville, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss. This time with students from Tenn State University.


Haitian survivors rebuild their lives after deadly earthquake

The sad, uplifting story of a Haitian father who lost his wife and oldest daughter and works to make life better for himself and his youngest daughter, who lost her arm in the quake.

Mourners remember Elizabeth Edwards

This was one of the first videos I edited on deadline. A sad farewell to Elizabeth Edwards.

Homeless runners get back on their feet

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change … so begins every run for homeless men in D.C. on the road to recovery.

Lobster business fishes for a lifeline

I shot my first video working on this story in January, 2009. What you can’t tell is that I could barely feel my fingers while shooting the video. Imagine Boston in the winter. Cold, right? Now drop the temp about 20 more degrees when you’re out on the water. Yep.  And then there’s the matter of how I get easily seasick. So of course, the waves were up the morning we went out and I’m interviewing the  lobsterman out on the water, and at one point, I stop him midsentence and say, “Hold that thought. I have to hurl off the side of your boat.” Needless to say, I provided him with quite a bit of entertainment and a story for his friends about the city reporter.   

By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY

MARSHFIELD, Mass. — Gregg Dexter hauls a 50-pound wire lobster trap out of the frigid, muddy waters of Cape Cod Bay, one of 800 traps he has to fetch as he stores his gear for the winter.He’s ending his season three weeks early because the catch is declining, bringing a dismal season to a close. Because of a gloomy economy, the price of lobsters sank from October through Christmas, the peak fishing period.

In the 15 years Dexter, 40, has been in the business, things have never been worse. The “boat price” that lobstermen get fell to $2.25 a pound this season, the lowest they’ve been in 20 years — at the same time that the costs of fuel, bait and insurance are going up.

For more:

Father who killed his son in a hunting accident pleads no contest

By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. — On Tuesday, relief flooded this tight-knit community in northeastern Vermont.
For three months, people here watched as their friend, Kevin Kadamus, lived with the guilt of killing his 17-year-old son, Jacob, in a hunting accident. They stood by him when he was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Tuesday afternoon, Kadamus, 45, pleaded no contest as part of a plea agreement in which he serves no prison time.

“It’s been hard,” his son, Zachary, 20, said after the hearing. “So far, we’ve been focused on the legal issues. Now we can focus on missing Jake.”

 For more:

This is a bit off the beaten track

Communities print their own currency to keep cash flowing

A small but growing number of cash-strapped communities are printing their own money.

Borrowing from a Depression-era idea, they are aiming to help consumers make ends meet and support struggling local businesses.

For more: