Test Cheating In Perspective

Only a few months ago Atlanta was held up as the city that improved schools for poor kids without relying on chartering, school closings, or new sources of teachers. Atlanta stayed inside the box, relying on professional development, coaching, and other traditional methods. Now it turns out that positive results from Atlanta could have come from widespread falsification of test score sheets by school staff.

Clearly, it doesn’t take the threat of widespread teacher firings or school closings to induce test cheating. What does this mean? Should districts abandon testing, thus giving up the only means they have to identify situations where kids aren’t learning in time to do something about it? No. But it does mean that educators are not morally different from other people: many wouldn’t cheat under any circumstances, but some will cheat if they can benefit and expect to get away with it. Districts need to anticipate this and take sensible precautions, like delivering tests to schools minutes before testing periods begin, and picking up shore sheets immediately after test periods end. Longer-run and better solutions would involve online adaptive tests for which no one knows what the questions will be before they are asked, and results are available immediately.

-Paul Hill

12 Replies to “Test Cheating In Perspective”

  1. Despite the shortfalls in student achievement, there hasn’t been cheating in Prince George’s County Public Schools (crooked superintendents-yes, but not cheating.)
    The testing office follows the state guidelines very strictly.
    So, look at what PGCPS does.

  2. Quotes from Dr. Hall:

    “our teachers want reform; they want recognition; and they want to be held accountable within a system that is both FAIR and fully TRANSPARENT.”

    “In order to be accountable, we had to make GOOD use of the DATA.”

    “DATA DRIVE EVERYTHING we do…the research is clear. When schools use the data every day every way, we can move the needle on student achievement.”

    “By the way, my OWN annual performance COMPENSATION and that of my cabinet members are also tied to meeting systemwide student achievement targets.”

    “As a best practice, we actually have a cadre of instructional experts on the ground in schools …Their job is unmistakable: to build teachers’ knowledge and skills, especially in USING DATA to develop their lesson plans and implementing standards-based work and best teaching practices in their classrooms. ”

    “Central office support leaders also spend time developing TRANSFORMATIONAL coaching skills to influence others to work toward our organizational goals.”

    “we are ABSOLUTELY moving in the RIGHT direction. We’re in the process of
    building on our current system of school-based incentives to implement pay for
    performance based on a student growth model.”

    ” I’d like to end with a video entitled “On Track for a REMARKABLE TURNAROUND.” I think it captures the spirit of our school district.

  3. and more:

    Superintendent Dr. Beverly L. Hall, Atlanta Public Schools, at the Strategic Management of Human Capital National Conference November 3–4, 2009 – Washington, D.C. where she gave the Lunch and Final Keynote Presentation as 2009 National Superintendent of the Year.

    The title of her talk was “Turning Around an Urban District: Curriculum, Data, Accountability, and Teacher and Principal Talent”

    “One of our principals put it best when she described her work as “debunking the American algorithm that socio-economics predicts academic success.” With that, our school district is on an unprecedented nine-year trend of improvement in student achievement.”

    “I can’t underscore enough that whether by student, by class or by school, data drive everything we do. Throughout the year, I meet with small teams of principals for an open and honest discussion about their school’s performance results. You would not believe the level of intervention employed by our schools based on deep analysis of the data.”

    “And early in our reform efforts, we developed partnerships with Teach for America, The New Teacher Project focusing on mid-career changers and the Visiting International Faculty as sources for new teachers. More than 800 TFA teachers have served in APS classrooms over the years, bringing with them their academic credentials from top-tier colleges and universities.”

    A. Superintendent Dr. Beverly L. Hall Atlanta Public Schools …

  4. High stakes standardized testing should NOT be the means to assess situations where kids aren’t learning. State tests are about as irrelevant as it gets. Look, testing turns school cultures into uncaring and quite depressing places. And, if not outright cheating by manipulating answers, what of the months of test preparation that takes place in schools, ramping up in January to test day? How are tests a valid measure of student achievement when hundreds of classroom hours are spent preparing for them? They are only valid if you define “education” to be successful on highly rationalized and atomistic math and reading skills, where you have children as young as eight using the most obscure and technical language referring to what they do in schools. Again, schools mobilize to prepare for tests, displaying test vocabulary outside the bathroom as students grab a quick drink of water. All classroom displays are ripped off the walls lest officials accuse teachers of cheating. Progressing to testing week, it looks almost as if the school year is over, furniture covered with butcher paper, walls blank, books shelved, joy totally gone. These displays rarely go back up because, honestly, the school year is over after testing. What’s the point?

  5. Whistle-blowing teachers targeted

    By Alan Judd and Heather Vogell
    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    His bosses had no trouble dismissing Ryan Abbott’s report of cheating on standardized tests in an Atlanta school. They simply cast him in a self-fulfilling role, Abbott says: “disgruntled teacher.”

    Abbott was already on probation, after four years at Benteen Elementary. His students had not posted the big increases in test scores seen in other classrooms. Yet he had the audacity to level charges against a popular colleague. After word of Abbott’s allegations spread through the school, Benteen’s principal opened an ethics case — against him.

    “It’s put me in a very difficult spot,” said Abbott, whose job security remains tenuous even though state authorities corroborated his claims of cheating at Benteen. “It’s a tough place to be.”

    Abbott’s experience illustrates the perils that befall Atlanta Public Schools teachers who report cheating or other wrongdoing, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

  6. I don’t think that the standardized test should be used at such high degree. There are many obstacles pending on end of the year tests

    Besides, I don’t think that teachers at my school in Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana are cheating for students to make high scores on the end of the year testing.

  7. The principal evaluations were based 25% on test scores, and they only had three years to improve their schools.

  8. Cheating is the least of the unintended consequences of high stakes testing. In districts across the country we are seeing:

    The lion’s share of resources going to bringing the bottom up, resulting in No Child Left Ahead,

    Students denied the very electives wherein they would find their talents and success because they are placed in additional math and reading “intervention” classes in order to try to get them to score proficient,

    The resulting degradation and even elimination of those content areas not officially tested, such as the arts and sometimes even social studies and physical education.

    Curriculum and instruction focused on random data points and remediation rather than a strengths-based approach with a clear and cohesive thematic approach supported by research regarding how the brain functions and how students learn,

    Teachers forced to implement so-called “evidence-based” programs that often do not improve student achievement even when implemented with fidelity,

    Implementation of silly schemes to motivate students to actually make an effort on the state exams because everyone knows the consequences fall on administrators and teachers, not students,

    Tunnel vision toward improvement of test scores to the detriment of everything else, often including school climate and the love of learning.

  9. It is sad that in the education system today that educators have to turn to cheating. I personally think that there is too much pressure placed on educators when it comes to high stakes standardized testing. I do not think that this is the only way that students should be assessed to determine what they have learned in a whole school year. I think there is too much pressure placed on teachers and not enough on students and parents. Students are not held accountable for their lack of performance. It is not always the teacher that is the reason that the student may not perform well on a standardized test. Some students do not perform well all school year, and they are EXPECTED to perform well on a standardized test. How is this possible?

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