Standardized test cheating scandal may point to wrong goal in education…

People will drop all sense of right and wrong and ethics and morals when it comes to money or promotion or just keeping their job.

I mean if it is true that in Atlanta, Ga. that as many as 178 teachers and principals in the public schools there took part in what is billed at the largest school cheating scandal in history, that seems to prove what I just contended in the first paragraph.

A state investigative report, apparently prompted by investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, charged that they erased wrong answers by students replacing them with correct answers. It also implicated former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall in the scandal. Her legal counsel, however, says she denies the charges.

It is sad indeed that professional educators would think it more important to cheat and thus get unjustly rewarded for higher tests scores via monetary bonuses than to concentrate on actually teaching. And they did get bonuses.

There is no excuse for their actions, except that maybe they felt their whole livelihoods were in jeopardy. And I suspect some soothed their consciences by rationalizing that it was a way to strike back at the test-is-everything no child left behind approach.

I think the whole emphasis on simply improving standardized tests scores misses the point. And I think the pressure should be more on the students to learn than the teachers to worry whether everyone gets a high score.

We all know — and it is painful to us all or many of us — that some people are just smarter than others. The idea that everyone should get a good grade is kind of silly, kind of like Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Woebegone where “all the kids are above average”.

But it is vital that the knowledge be offered. It is vital that teachers be of the highest quality and that they themselves have mastered the subjects they teach.

Done right, teachers will likely see many of their charges surpass them in their own areas of expertise, and they will be proud of this I am sure.

While it is true that some people are better able to pass on their knowledge, each teacher has his or own teaching style and some students may take to it and others not as much.

But this emphasis on teaching to a standardized test is nonsense in that it narrowly focuses on how to get right answers but does not ensure that students really understand what they are doing. In my own life I have often seen people who seem to be good at standardized problems on tests but fall apart when they have to do something original or think out of the standardized box.

I’m not particularly the math type, but I love language. When I was taking Spanish I noticed that some students could ace the tests which were often fill in the blanks and the like, but could not come up with an original sentence on their own.

There has to be some bench mark. So tests have to be used. But teaching to the test and, worse yet, rewarding educators simply for coming up with higher test scores is counter productive, especially when some feel compelled to cheat by changing their own students’ answers.

I do have to say, however, if top-level education were being offered at any given school, it would seem to follow that an abundance of comparatively high scores would be the result. But it should go without saying that cheating ruins the whole thing, but apparently in some educators’ minds the scores and not the learning was the goal.

There is nothing wrong, however, in preparing students in the methods of taking a test. But again, when how to take a test becomes more important than actually learning a subject, something must be wrong.

A more accurate picture of student achievement might be rendered on more individually creative tests than the standardized model but such tests would be difficult to administer and grade on a mass basis, I suppose.

It’s hard to believe that someone who would go into education would stoop to falsifying test results. It’s sad.

It is also sad to hear stories about parents who actually encourage their own children to cheat. To them the scores are all important. I guess they feel they get you into the better colleges and give you more status and more money.

Passing the test has surpassed actual learning as the paramount goal.

If we as a society think we are smart to immediately pass go and get rich, we may eventually find ourselves at last not so smart and not so rich.

India and China value learning (and they like money too).

P.s.

The tenure of former Washington D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who carried on the  hard-charging, change-minded get rid of underperforming teachers and principals — under performance based on test scores of the students — was marred by charges or suspicions of cheating by some teachers and principals, the implication being she somehow knew about and/or encouraged it.

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