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When the Adults Start Cheating

By Peter Franzen, CEAM Director of Development

A recent article from a parenting website about the testing scandal in the Atlanta public schools started with: “With the current push by many for merit pay for teachers based on test scores there may come an unintended consequence — widespread cheating.”

To my ears that sentence comes off sounding very passive when, in fact, the whole scam required the active participation of teachers and administrators; in this case, almost 200 of them.  A consequence is what follows an action or results from a situation.  Widespread cheating was a consequence of something, but I don’t think I would say it is the consequence of an increased interest in test scores.  More likely, it was the consequence of a failure to require transparency.

When a Facebook friend posted the Yahoo News version of the story on her page I commented with: “The old do as I say, not as I do routine.”

I’m sure it’s not lost on anyone that cheating in an academic setting is the cardinal sin.  From the very first day we enter a Kindergarten classroom we are told to do our own work, keep our eyes on our own paper and to not give hints to others when they are asked a question.  We are not allowed to phone a friend, poll the class or eliminate half of the possible answers.  We are told to think for ourselves.  We’re told that when we take a test it tells us what we’ve learned and helps us understand what we need to study further.

All that seems to have been thrown out the window in Atlanta and presumably other schools in the country as at least a few other testing scandals were uncovered in June.  It seems that when test scores are used for measuring the effectiveness of institutions no one gets all that desperate.  But when you say that test scores will be used to measure the effectiveness of the person(s) a child has spent the last nine months learning from, things change.

In Atlanta, the prospect of using test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness was so frightening that many district staff colluded to make themselves look better and ostensibly to stave off any threats to pay raises.  They’re not exactly being shining examples to their students and if there is a direct connection to be made between the reported scores and salary increases, they may have effectively defrauded the government by ensuring pay increases with their falsified scores.  Time will tell.

What all this really calls for in my opinion is greater transparency.

Transparency is one of the key values held by the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri and had it been practiced in Atlanta, this whole mess might have been avoided.  Educational attainment by students is a major, national issue that impacts our economy and security.  Operating schools under full transparency ensures that people understand how public money is being spent, how tests are being implemented and what the outcomes of those tests are.

Taxpayers and especially parents are best suited to demand educational transparency.  The incident in Atlanta makes one wonder what might be going on behind closed doors in Missouri. Making the system more transparent is the best way to know what is happening in all Missouri schools.

Here’s the story from www.imperfectparent.com

Atlanta teacher cheating scandal may be largest ever

Georgia governor reveals 178 teachers and principals accused of rigging test scores

July 6th, 2011 by Prescott Carlson

With the current push by many for merit pay for teachers based on test scores there may come an unintended consequence — widespread cheating.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal revealed on Tuesday that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta school district have been accused of gaming test scores, casting a shadow over recent gains claimed by the city’s public schools. Eighty-two of the 178 educators have already confessed.

The governor’s report on the Atlanta Public Schools described a “widespread conspiracy” to rig scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) as well as taking measures against any teachers that would go against the policy, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has been conducting a months long investigation of Atlanta schools. The CRCT was implemented by the state to assess student proficiency by first through eighth grade in the “Georgia Performance Standards” in reading, English/language arts and mathematics. Third through eighth grade students are also tested in science and social studies.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was reported as saying, “[The report] confirms our worst fears. There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system.”

A spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, Robert Schaeffer, points out that the Atlanta incident is far from isolated, and two to three other cheating scandals a week nationwide had been discovered during the month of June. Schaeffer says, “When test scores are all that matter, some educators feel pressured to get the scores they need by hook or by crook. The higher the stakes, the greater the incentive to manipulate, to cheat.”

The Georgia report not only details teacher and principal cheating, but also troubling indicators that the school district actively refused to address the cheating, with some district administrators even ordering principals not to respond to investigator requests, with one even saying employees should “tell investigators to ‘go to hell.’”

The report specifically called out Superintendent Beverly Hall, calling her actions “unconscionable”  and that “in many ways, the community was duped by Dr. Hall.”

Investigators added, “While the district had rampant cheating, community leaders were unaware of the misconduct in the district. She abused the trust they placed in her. Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children. Her image became more important than reality.”


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