Cul­ture of cheat­ing breed­ing in schools across the nation

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Those sneaky stu­dents in the back of the class­room aren’t the only cheaters.

Teach­ers and school lead­ers are get­ting in on the scams by boost­ing test scores not through bet­ter in­struc­tion, but by eras­ing wrong an­swers, re­plac­ing them with the right ones and hood­wink­ing par­ents in the process.

Nowhere was the corruption more wide­spread than in Atlanta, where a re­cent probe found that 44 schools and 178 teach­ers and prin­ci­pals had been fal­si­fy­ing stu­dent test scores for the past decade. Sus­pected cheat­ing also is un­der re­view in the District, and the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s in­spec­tor gen­eral is as­sist­ing with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, re­ports that sur­faced last week show sus­pected cheat­ing in at least three dozen school dis­tricts. State Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tar y Ron­ald To­ma­lis on July 14 or­dered those dis­tricts to in­ves­ti­gate the sus­pi­cious scores and re­port back within 30 days. He also asked a data com­pany to an­a­lyze 2010 scores, ac­cord­ing to the Associated Press.

Sim­i­lar charges of cheat­ing have been dis­cov­ered in Bal­ti­more, Hous­ton and else­where.

Al­though the de­tails dif­fer, ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ists think each scan­dal has a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

“There’s a very sim­ple cause: con­se­quences,” said Gre­gory Cizek, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tional mea­sure­ment and eval­u­a­tion in the School of Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Any district where you’ve got kids who are at risk of not suc­ceed­ing [. . . ] there are prob­lems as big as Atlanta, as big as [Wash­ing­ton] D.C., as big as Philadel­phia. The more stakes there are in­volved, the more you’re go­ing to see it.”

The Atlanta probe found that “cheat­ing oc­curred as early as 2001,” the year the No Child Left Be­hind Act was en­acted. Mr. Cizek and oth­ers ar­gue that the greater accountability schools face, the more likely that teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors are to, at best, turn a blind eye to cheat­ing. At worst, they en­cour­age it.

For­mer Atlanta Su­per­in­ten­dent Bev­erly Hall was named su­per­in­ten­dent of the year by the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of School Ad­min­is­tra­tors in 2009. She re­tired last month and told USA To­day on July 13 that she “did not know about the cheat­ing.”

Un­der No Child Left Be­hind guide­lines, schools can be la­beled “fail­ing” if stu­dent test scores don’t meet state bench­marks. Poor re­sults are em­bar­rass­ing for teach­ers and of­ten cost prin­ci­pals, su­per­in­ten­dents and school board mem­bers their jobs. By con­trast, high scores on read­ing and math tests equal praise for those in charge.

In the face of such pres­sure, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors some­times go with their “nat­u­ral re­ac­tion,” said Robert Scha­ef­fer, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Fair and Open Test­ing.

“The teach­ers and prin­ci­pals who changed test scores did some­thing un­eth­i­cal and prob­a­bly il­le­gal, [but they were] caught be­tween a rock and a hard place,” he said. “We’ve cre­ated a cli­mate that cor­rupted the ed­u­ca­tional process. The sole goal of ed­u­ca­tion [. . . ] be­came boost­ing scores by any means nec­es­sary.”

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment has es­ti­mated that more than 80 per­cent of schools could be la­beled as “fail­ing” this year un­der No Child Left Be­hind, and con­gres­sional lead­ers are work­ing on over­haul­ing the law.

The House Com­mit­tee on Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force has passed the first three pieces of its five-step re­form process, and Rep. John Kline, Min­nesota Repub­li­can and com­mit­tee chair­man, has said the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion will change the accountability process and free schools from the test­ing man­dates.

“One of our pri­mary goals is to put more con­trol in the hands of state and lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials who can prop­erly mon­i­tor and ad­dress sit­u­a­tions like this to en­sure stu­dents are not be­ing cheated out of a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion,” Mr. Kline said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions of sus­pected vi­o­la­tions of­ten move slowly.

Un­til re­cently, ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials in Penn­syl­va­nia ap­par­ently were un­aware of a 2009 anal­y­sis of the Penn­syl­va­nia Sys­tem of School As­sess­ment that iden­ti­fied “test­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” at schools in Philadel­phia, Ha­zle­ton, Lan­caster and else­where. For­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Ger­ald Za­hor­chak, who served un­der Gov. Ed­ward G. Ren­dell, has de­nied see­ing the 44-page doc­u­ment, the Associated Press re­ported.

“It’s in no­body’s in­ter­est [. . . ] to re­ally do a search­ing, thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Mr. Cizek said. “Vig­or­ously pur­su­ing an al­le­ga­tion is just a loselose-lose sit­u­a­tion” for stu­dents, teach­ers, dis­tricts and par­ents, none of whom wants to ad­mit wrong­do­ing or, in the stu­dents’ cases, face the re­al­ity that they didn’t score as well as they thought.

As a re­sult, those stu­dents “are left even fur­ther be­hind,” Mr. Scha­ef­fer said, by not get­ting the re­me­dial ed­u­ca­tion they need.

Some fear the worst is yet to come. Mr. Scha­ef­fer said Wash­ing­ton could be “the next Atlanta, only big­ger,” when the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plete.

Al­though the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is help­ing with the D.C. case, Mr. Scha­ef­fer ar­gues that fed­eral lawmakers largely caused the cheat­ing scan­dals by forc­ing schools to fo­cus time, ef­fort and money on stan­dard­ized as­sess­ments.

“It’s harder and harder for politi­cians with a straight face to say high-stakes test­ing is im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.