In case you missed it there was another school cheating scandal reported yesterday. This is the opening of an article by Dorrie Turner, Associated Press:
“ATLANTA (AP) — Former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall knew about cheating allegations on standardized tests but either ignored them or tried to hide them, according to a state investigation.
An 800-page report released Tuesday to The Associated Press by Gov. Nathan Deal's office through an open records request shows several educators reported cheating in their schools. But the report says Hall, who won the national Superintendent of the Year award in 2009, and other administrators ignored those reports and sometimes retaliated against the whistleblowers.
The yearlong investigation shows educators at nearly four dozen Atlanta elementary and middle schools cheated on standardized tests by helping students or changing the answers once exams were handed in.”
Are you shocked and appalled? I’m not. Why should anyone be surprised by the actions of frantic people in a desperate situation? Do I think they have put themselves in an untenable position? Certainly. Would I have done the same thing? I pray not. But I am not the least bit surprised that teachers and principals were caught doing something that students, attorneys, judges, bankers, politicians, preachers and government officials have all been caught doing. That doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t eradicate the consequences. But let’s not pretend we didn’t see this coming the moment “No Child Left Behind” got past the first press release.
Largely because of NCLB, state testing is no longer seen as a way to test the progress of students, but as a means of rewarding and punishing the adults who struggle to educate them. Ten states now use test scores as the main criterion in teacher evaluations. Other states reward high-scoring teachers with huge bonuses and more states are set to follow their lead. Low scores can result in teachers and principals losing their jobs or entire schools closing. Low scores can lead to massive tutoring efforts which in reality are simply “teach the test” programs. Low scores can lead to a mass exodus of students if parents have the means to transfer them elsewhere.
Yes, cheating is wrong, but please, please, please do NOT get sucked into this media black hole and focus on the poor choices and deplorable actions of a few educators who got caught doing what thousands are undoubtedly doing and will do this coming year. When an epidemic threatens our children we must look at the source of the disease, not just the symptoms. The real problem here isn’t the cheating, but the perceived necessity for it. Why aren’t our children doing well on the state tests without the “help” of teachers and administrators?
The answer is that some of them are doing quite well. Our mistake is in expecting all of them to do well. There are as many reasons for poor test results as there are children. And it baffles me that we can take thirty children, give them all the same instructions in piano, soccer, dancing, or painting and NOT expect them to learn or perform at the same degree of skill, yet expect the same group to learn and perform reading or math skills at identical levels. Why do we intuitively understand the folly of one, but not the other?
Unlike other professions, teachers are faced with the ubiquitous task of “do the best you can, where you are, with what you have.” We can’t choose our students. We can’t say “give me only the best and brightest this year!” We work with the children who walk through our door -so what we get is a group of students who represent every walk of life. We get students from that big house on the hill and from that van parked on a different corner each night. We get students who go home to two loving, caring parents who help with homework and we get students who go home to an empty house and fix their own dinner while they wait for their mom or dad to come home from the local bar. We get students who arrive at school with all of their supplies and a full stomach and happy face and we get students who can’t afford a pencil and haven’t eaten since their school lunch the day before and have tears in their eyes because there was a fight at the bus stop. We get students who are intelligent and have a gift for language and we get students whose brains are damaged beyond repair by the drug and alcohol use of their parents. And we get every student in between. Don’t tell me you think for a minute that we can teach each child in our classroom to perform at the same level on a state-mandated test that may or may not even be in a language they fully understand! I assure you we do everything we can to teach each child as much as we can before that test is given, but we cannot guarantee that each child will perform consistently. The people who are making those guarantees are the ones who have either NEVER been in a classroom or have not been in one in the last ten years. And if they make an impossible goal the requirement for survival, some people are going to cheat in order to survive.
You know I can’t stay off my soapbox when an issue this important is flaunted in front of me. I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg and that cheating will escalate as educators are expected to perform more miracles with less money and fewer resources. And as usual, the great teachers who are devoting their hearts and minds to their students are the ones who seldom get media attention!