The Atlanta Cheating Scandal and Those Blasted Tests

There is no excuse for teachers or officials to cheat.  We are there to provide a moral example for our students, and cheating of any kind is clearly unacceptable.

But we must not leave the matter at that point.  There’s a reason why some teachers have cheated on standardised tests.  Those tests  are anti-education.  They measure success through pressurised outcomes rather than authentic teaching and learning.  They expose teachers to unfair stress and scrutiny and force them the teach to the test, rather than teach to enrich and engage.

Officials in Atlanta deserve the condemnation they are receiving.

Officials and parents here are reeling after revelations of one of the largest school cheating scandals in history.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released a report showing that officials at nearly 80 percent of 56 Atlanta elementary and middle schools examined cheated on annual student-performance tests, called Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and retired last month as head of the 48,000-student district, is accused of creating a culture of fear, pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved.

For a decade, teachers and principals changed answers on state tests.

But we must reflect on the merits of standardised state and national tests.

In Australia we have the NAPLAN test.  The NAPLAN test like other National tests around the globe have an important function.  Their job is to give information to parents about their childs’ progress, which includes a comparison against all others taking the test in that age group.

But what it also does is set up the teacher.  The teacher carries the blame for the results.  It is the teacher that is the first port of call when parents seek an explanation – it is the teacher that is labelled as insufficient when the school analyses the data.

Such pressures lead teachers to teach for the test rather than the typical authentic adherence to the curriculum.  This is not the way teachers are supposed to teach.  It also puts more pressure on teachers.  Teachers are already under significant strain.  We must be mindful that this system puts them in a situation where their performance is scrutinised like never before.  And finally, a test is just a guide.  It is not a perfect form of assessment.  Many factors can cloud and effect the conclusions made by the data such as student anxiety, outliers etc.

Cheating is wrong, and teachers and officials that cheat deserve to be punished.  But somehow, I feel that by administering national tests, teachers are getting punished regardless.

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