One of the worst trends in modern public education in the United States is using a child’s performance on a standardized test to assess whether a teacher is doing his or her job and whether a school is performing or not performing.The trend was growing before George Bush and Ted Kennedy sat down and drafted No Child Left Behind in the early part of W’s administration. But then they decided to add in financial incentives and penalties and near national standards. Conservatives who were willing to speak up at the time said it would lead to dark places. Unfortunately, too few wanted to speak up against the new “conservative” President who’d just given the “liberal lion” carte blanche to draft education legislation.As predicted by the few conservative voices in the wilderness, the chickens are coming home to roost in Atlanta, GA. A multi-year investigation into standardized test cheating in the Atlanta Public School system has found a mafia like atmosphere from the top all the way down to classroom teachers.For the past decade, Atlanta’s schools received national praise for their success — success measured by performance on standardized tests. And as the performance increased, the benchmarks for the tests increased. Consequently, cheating had to become more widespread.It got to the point where teachers were having parties where they’d sit down on a weekend together and wholesale erase and redo students’ test answers. Children unable to read were making near perfect scores on reading comprehension tests. The Superintendent and her school bosses would scream racism when anyone dared question what was going on. They’d behave like global warming scientists and destroy documents requested by the media. They’d fabricate, alter, and destroy evidence and obstruct investigators.
At Venetian Hills, a group of teachers and administrators who dubbed themselves “the chosen ones” convened to change answers in the afternoons or during makeup testing days, investigators found. Principal Clarietta Davis, a testing coordinator told investigators, wore gloves while erasing to avoid leaving fingerprints on answer sheets.Davis refused to answer the investigators’ questions. She could not be reached Tuesday.At Gideons Elementary, teachers sneaked tests off campus and held a weekend “changing party” at a teacher’s home in Douglas County to fix answers.Cheating was “an open secret” at the school, the report said. The testing coordinator handed out answer-key transparencies to place over answer sheets so the job would go faster.When investigators began questioning educators, now-retired principal Armstead Salters obstructed their efforts by telling teachers not to cooperate, the report said.“If anyone asks you anything about this just tell them you don’t know,” the report said Salters said. He told teachers to “just stick to the story and it will all go away.”Salters eventually confessed to knowing cheating was occurring, the report said. He could not be reached Tuesday.At Kennedy Middle, children who couldn’t read not only passed the state reading test, but scored at the highest level possible. At Perkerson Elementary, a student sat under a desk, then randomly filled in answers and still passed.At East Lake Elementary, the principal and testing coordinator instructed teachers to arrange students’ seats so that the lower-performing children would receive easier versions of the Fifth Grade Writing Tests.
Why did this happen? Well it seems it all started out for fame and glory. Then No Child Left Behind came in with its adequate yearly progress goals. Teachers were more and more forced to give up teaching subject matter and start teaching tests. If students did badly, teachers were punished. If whole classes did badly, schools were punished. If whole schools did badly, districts were punished.George Bush and Ted Kennedy, along with school officials at the state and local level, had decided to give financial incentive to success in public education. For many schools dealing with kids whose fathers are in jail and mothers are addicted to drugs, the kids are coming to school hungry and unable to read or concentrate. The only way to get ahead was to cheat.And cheat they did. And cheat they do. Atlanta just got caught. But the odds that Atlanta is the only system involved are slim to none.I talk to many, many teachers on my radio show. Most of them are real conservatives. All of them lament what No Child Left Behind has done to public school systems. The law has forced on schools a nationalized system of education and standards and a nationalized system of standardized testing.Perversely, instead of using the standardized tests to measure a student’s progress and place the child with similar performing students in the next year’s grade to help the student, the tests track the teachers’ progress and punishes or rewards the teacher based on how well the student does on the test. We are no longer teaching a nation of children how to think. We are no longer teaching a nation of children how to read and write and add and subtract and understand American history and balance chemical equations. We are teaching our children how to take a standardized test. And then, when they fail, we use the result to punish the teacher, not help the child.As federal involvement in education grows, this problem will grow too. Atlanta is just the first warning sign. This is what happens when Republicans split the baby instead of fighting for real school choice and real school reform.