The stu­dents cheated in Atlanta

The Covington News - - Opinion - To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, see www.cre­ators.com.

It was my fresh­man year of high school. My mother, sis­ter and I had re­cently moved back to Car­roll­ton, Ga. It may have been so­cial stud­ies, or it may have been bi­ol­ogy, the sub­ject does not mat­ter, it was the life les­son that I learned that does.

We were given a test. A few of the other stu­dents were writ­ing notes on their desk. De­cid­ing that this might en­sure a high grade, I fol­lowed suit. The teacher made rounds dur­ing the test by walk­ing up and down the aisle. She caught me cheat­ing on the test.

The ram­i­fi­ca­tions: a fail­ing grade on the test and a dis­cus­sion with my mother. I don't re­mem­ber ex­actly what my mother told me, but I re­mem­ber that her re­sponse was: Study hard, do the best you can, the process of learn­ing is more im­por­tant than the grade.

What I learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence was that the end does not jus­tify the means. The process of learn­ing (or at least of mem­o­riz­ing the sub­ject mat­ter for the du­ra­tion of the test) was more im­por­tant than the grade that I re­ceived on a test.

The cul­ture in our school was that cheat­ing was not al­lowed.

That child­hood les­son is one that many of the peo­ple who have run Atlanta's pub­lic schools might never learned. De­liv­ered last week to Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal and made pub­lic this week, the gov­er­nor's spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Atlanta Pub­lic School's 2009 CRCT test, led by Robert E. Wil­son (for­mer DeKalb County district at­tor­ney), Michael J. Bowers ( for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral) and Richard L. Hyde (for­mer Atlanta po­lice de­tec­tive) is shock­ing and sad. The spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion was started un­der then-Gov. Sonny Per­due and con­tin­ued un­der Deal. The re­port is based on 2,100 in­ter­views and more than 800,000 doc­u­ments.

The take­away from the re­port is that the ends were more im­por­tant than the means for some of the teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors dur­ing the 2009 CRCT (Cri­te­ri­onRef­er­enced Com­pe­tency Test) process. Ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion web­site: "The as­sess­ments yield in­for­ma­tion on aca­demic achieve­ment at the stu­dent, class, school, sys­tem, and state lev­els. This in­for­ma­tion is used to di­ag­nose in­di­vid­ual stu­dent strengths and weak­nesses as re­lated to the in­struc­tion of the GPS (Ge­or­gia Per­for­mance Stan­dards), and to gauge the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion through­out Ge­or­gia."

The find­ings of the state re­port: Wide­spread cheat­ing oc­curred in ad­min­is­ter­ing the 2009 test.

"Su­per­in­ten­dent Bev­erly Hall and her se­nior staff knew, or should have known, that cheat­ing and of­fenses were oc­cur­ring," stated the re­port. "We found cheat­ing in 44 of the 56 schools we ex­am­ined (78.6 per­cent). There were 38 prin­ci­pals

" Unattain­able tar­gets, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, led to cheat­ing by

” teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors."

of those 56 schools (67.9 per­cent) found to be re­spon­si­ble for, or di­rectly in­volved in, cheat­ing."

The cheat­ing was de­lib­er­ate and in some schools co­or­di­nated. "Teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors erased stu­dents' in­cor­rect an­swers af­ter the test was given and filled in the cor­rect an­swers."

This was not a case where a few ran­dom teach­ers pro­vided ex­tra help to a fa­vorite stu­dent or two. This in­volved, in some cases, groups of teach­ers and prin­ci­pals, and plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion — re­sources that should have been spent on teach­ing stu­dents, not at­tempt­ing to rig test re­sults.

"The chang­ing of an­swers by teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors was, in some cases, so so­phis­ti­cated that plas­tic trans­parency an­swer sheets were cre­ated to make chang­ing the test an­swers sheets eas­ier," the re­port says.

Af­ter list­ing de­tails about the in­di­vid­ual schools, the re­port at­tempts to ad­dress the why of the cheat­ing. Why would teach­ers and prin­ci­pals who were sup­posed to be fo­cus­ing on teach­ing chil­dren fo­cus, in­stead, on fal­si­fy­ing stu­dent achieve­ment?

Why were they set­ting up their chil­dren to fail?

The re­port con­cluded that there were three pri­mary rea­sons:

"The tar­gets set by the district were of­ten un­re­al­is­tic ..."

"A cul­ture of fear, in­tim­i­da­tion and re­tal­i­a­tion spread through­out the district ..."

And, "Dr. Hall and her ad­min­is­tra­tion em­pha­sized test re­sults and pub­lic praise to the ex­clu­sion of in­tegrity and ethics."

The re­port went on to note that this pres­sure to cheat must have built over the years. Test scores were based on prior years' test re­sults. "Af­ter a few years of in­creases," noted the re­port, "teach­ers found the tar­gets unattain­able and re­sorted to cheat­ing."

Unattain­able tar­gets, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, led to cheat­ing by teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors.

Just imag­ine how the chil­dren in the schools felt.

Not given the in­struc­tion nec­es­sary by their teach­ers be­cause their prior year's per­for­mance was ar­ti­fi­cially in­flated, they were led to be­lieve that the only way to get the re­sults de­sired was to cheat.

It was the chil­dren who were cheated. The les­son they learned was that the end was more im­por­tant than the means of get­ting there.

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, COLUM­NIST

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