Atlanta test cheating: Tip of the iceberg?

Apr 1, 2013 by

It would be easy to think that the Atlanta cheating scandal by adults on standardized tests is the worst we have seen, given last week’s startling indictment against former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others under a law used against mobsters.

But you shouldn’t.

In the past four academic years, test cheating has been confirmed in 37 states and Washington D.C. (You can see details here, and, here, a list of more than 50 ways that schools can manipulate test scores.)  The true extent of these scandals remain unknown, and, as Michael Winerip of The New York Times shows here in this excellent article, it is very hard to get to the bottom of these scandals. In Atlanta, it took the will of two governors who allowed investigators to go in with a lot of time and subpoena power.

Atlanta, in fact, is the tip of a national test-score manipulation “iceberg,” according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests. The cause? Pressure by politicians on educators to boost standardized exam results “by hook or by crook” to meet the requirements of laws that purport to promote student achievement but don’t.

The indictment against Hall and the others, which came down on Friday, explains the dynamic this way:

Over time, the unreasonable pressure to meet annual APS [Atlanta Public Schools] targets led some employees to cheat on the CRCT [Criterion Referenced Competency Tests].  The refusal of Beverly Hall and her top administrators to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.

Atlanta test cheating: Tip of the iceberg?.

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