Monday, April 08, 2013

Atlanta test cheating scandal has lessons for Kentucky educators

Bowling Green Ind. superintendent acknowledges 
pressure of high-stakes testing

This from the Bowling Green Daily News by way of KSBA:

State's actions help curb widespread cheating in schools

Fulton County, Ga., parents and possibly parents elsewhere will probably be looking at their children’s test scores with greater scrutiny after nearly 40 former and current educators were indicted this week on accusations they conspired to fix answers on standardized tests.

“I consider this one of the most important, one of the seminal developments in the history of American education law. It’s the largest school teaching scandal yet recorded in the country,”

University of Georgia law professor emeritus Ron Carlson told USA Today. “A high-profile case like this one puts public attention and public pressure on the various moves made by prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

The prosecutor in the case said Atlanta teachers and administrators engaged in systematic activities to erase student answers, replacing them with correct answers to inflate schools’ overall performance, and then retaliated against whistle blowers. Test cheating first came to light in 2011, when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue concluded that any reasonable person could see that cheating had occurred. A 21-month investigation followed Perdue’s accusations, concluding that the cheating might have gone as far back as 2005.

Increased test performance was tied to rewards, which were shared by educators. The pay-for-performance model in education is perhaps flawed if it drives educators to engage in such actions, because if such widespread cheating really did occur, then no one wins. The school system’s reputation was sullied and students were cheated out of further instruction they might have gotten had their accurate scores come to light.

The actions, if true, set the wrong example for school children across the country who are admonished for cheating on tests, possibly even thrown out of the classroom.

Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Joe Tinius said the scandal probably makes the community at large wonder how widespread cheating is.

“It certainly is unfortunate that it occurred,” he said.

The Atlanta test scandal is not the only one by any means, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. The center on March 28 issued a report that said cheating on standardized exams had been confirmed in 37 states and Washington, D.C., between 2008 and 2012. The center gathered its information from government and news media reports.

Kentucky was among the states on the cheating list, but it did not have multiple cases or an apparent systematic pattern of cheating. Neighboring Indiana, however, did.

Center director Bob Schaeffer said more than 50 ways were used to manipulate a school’s test scores other than just erasing incorrect answers and replacing them with the correct ones, as is alleged in Atlanta. Teachers have been found to drill students on actual upcoming test items; use thumbs-up/thumbs down to indicate right and wrong answers; report low-scorers as having been absent on test day or destroy their test sheets. The list goes on.

Hopefully, Kentucky has prevented such problems in the future after the passage a few years ago of SB 1, which eliminated the portfolio part of student assessment.

“When we had portfolios, I don’t know that you would have necessarily called it cheating,” Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, said. “But a student would create a portfolio piece at the beginning of the year and then work on it all year long, with the teacher making suggestions about how to correct it. That portfolio made up about 11 percent of the assessment and now it’s no longer included.”

DeCesare said teachers were spending too much time teaching to the test, rather than focusing on making students ready for postsecondary education or the workforce. Now Kentucky has a waiver from No Child Left Behind testing requirements and is accountable for just one testing system that more accurately measures what students need to know.

Tinius said the pressure of high stakes accountability is something that has been discussed for years.

“I don’t know what type of pressure was being felt at these schools ... because you certainly feel a great deal of pressure if your school is not performing well,” he said. “But obviously they crossed the line.”

Tinius said he thinks Kentucky is very vigilant in ensuring that cheating doesn’t occur.

The district has already had a meeting this spring with its testing coordinators to discuss the importance of making sure that testing and students’ answer booklets are handled correctly.


Anonymous said...

Strange how neigher a colleague, principal, district coordinator or anyone else in the system did not recognize or elect to address this matter but instead the governor of the state has to implement an investigation for something which is apparently so obvious. I suspect that the folks charged our only a portion of those who were either involved or knew of the cheating.

Anonymous said...

Ok so the teachers got a few thousand dollars for cheating and are being arrested but what did most of those bankers and investors in the high rises of downtow Atlanta get for their crashing our nation's economy four years ago? Not saying the cheating was right but I am betting you can find the same sort of junk in every profession from doctors to mechanics. Seems like there is either some embarassment-based revenge at hand or a young procecutor trying to make a name for himself. Wonder how many other employees of Atlanta's thousands of staff members have simply been fired for theft or harrasment without any criminal charges ever being filed? Sounds like powers that be want to put on a show.

Anonymous said...

If they don't plead this out to get rid of it, I can see the spin defense will be using: Teachers faced with either losing jobs due to low performance (influences beyond classroom can not be overcome) or cheating in order to meet expected performance levels - its those darn tests that made them do it!

Not a fan of asssement and understand the preasures it brings but don't think that defense will go very far. It would be interesting to see it take us down a path which brought into question not just the validity of the assessment Model but the acctual process by which it has been crammed down folks throats by a few in "leadeship".