The world of academia has been rocked yet again by scandal. Looks like students aren’t the only ones cheating in school. It seems administrators, principals and teachers are cheating as well. That’s right, those in charge of our children’s education have resorted to cheating to bolster student test scores. Last week 178 teachers, principals and administrators in the Atlanta area were caught cheating in a scheme to raise student scores on state standardized tests. Student’s answers were erased and corrected before being submitted to the state for scoring.
Although considered scandalous by many, and embarrassing for the residents, students and school officials in the Atlanta area, this really comes as no surprise. In the last few years several cheating scandals have been disclosed around the country. In this era of the federal “No Child Left Behind Act” which increases schools and teachers accountability, teachers are under pressure to have their students perform well, as test results are directly tied into whether or not a school will receive federal funds, or in some cases, whether teacher will keep their jobs or receive bonus incentives. The act, which requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.
This ever-increasing dependence on standardized tests is taking education down the wrong road. A child’s progress or real academic improvement cannot be adequately measured by a standardized test given once a year. Education is an ongoing process, you lay a foundation then build on it day by day. Standardized testing is weakening that process as more and more teachers choose to “teach to the test” focusing only on the key concepts they know will be tested and skipping over other important or interesting subject matter because the student doesn’t need it for the test. It wasn’t that long ago when you went to school to learn the three R’s, history, science, art, civics, and more! Today you are taught the standards, because that is what will be tested.
A good friend of mine, a U S History teacher for many years is a Civil War buff. He used to spend weeks and weeks covering the Civil War in depth, now he is forced to cover only the standards because if he stays on the Civil War Era too long he will fall behind and not get all the standards covered. Once again the students lose out.
Unfortunately many teachers are feeling threatened, they believe that their jobs and livelihood as well as their self-images are at stake. Some resort to cheating as a last ditch effort to preserve their self-respect. Others cheat for personal gain in the way of accolades and bonuses, and some teachers working with their principals and district administrators form actual cheating rings like in Atlanta to bolster scores and garner state and federal aid.
No matter what form the cheating takes, it simply isn’t right. As a former teacher I believe that the pressure put on teachers, principals and districts for better scores on standardized test is ridiculous and must be changed. Standardized testing is being misused. It is not the holy grail of education. Students, teachers, and schools should be rated using a variety of different measures. The simple, standardized multiple choice test has got to go. It is the easiest form of testing to coach or cheat on. Teachers and schools need to be assessed on their day to day progress and ability, then the cheating wouldn’t occur. The real solution here is the development of better tools by which to assess teachers, and a richer, more encompassing education for students. Until that happens the cheating will continue…