Atlanta Cheating Scandal Raises Testing Questions
posted by: Alix | July 15, 2011, 03:53 PM   

One of our country's largest school systems is experiencing the scandal of a generation. Based upon the findings of a July report commissioned by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, it was revealed that nearly 80 percent of Atlanta's schools showed signs of cheating by teachers on statewide performance tests. As new revelations surface daily, blame is shifting from teachers to administrators, and everyone else in between, raising even larger questions about the intense pressure teachers are facing over state and federal testing mandates.

The lengthy report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. The investigators said they confirmed wrongdoing in 44 of 56 schools they examined. During the probe, investigators conducted more than 2,100 interviews and examined more than 800,000 public school documents in what is likely the most wide-ranging investigation into test-cheating by a public district ever.

Among the shocking findings, special investigators described a system where unethical and potentially criminal actions were found on virtually every level of the district. From teachers to high-ranking administrators, their cheating–and ultimate false testing gains– led to district staff earning acclaim, community praise, and sometimes bonuses from false scores. The report accuses top officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases.

Teachers from Atlanta are coming clean daily, leading to accusations of a culture of fear that ensured the lies would continue. "APS is run like the mob," one teacher told investigators, saying she had to cheat to keep her job.

So, who is responsible? As of today, at least six top educators in the Atlanta system have been asked to step down by interim school superintendent Erroll Davis. More than 80 individual teachers have confessed to cheating with numbers rising.

As the saga continues, education experts claim that cheating on tests raises questions about the culture of standardized tests and accountability under 2002's No Child Left Behind law. Atlanta is not the only system to show signs of test tampering in recent years. Schools in Massachusetts have experienced similar problems resulting from teachers fearful of losing their jobs over declining test scores.

With performance pay policies in action, teachers can often earn bonuses for showing testing gains. At the same time, educators may fear that their jobs will be at stake if their students don't show improvement. While there is indeed pressure based on test scores, is this a reason to eliminate accountability measures? Experts say no.

Clearly, it is critical for our students to be evaluated to ensure that they advance to the next level, and eventually graduate with the skills they need as adults. As one commentator asserts, "Testing isn't the problem. Rooting out the fears that tempt teachers to cheat is."

What do you think about the testing scandal?
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