By now you’ve seen it, too. It certainly rocked my world! Eleven educators jailed, as felons facing 20 years, for their involvement in a cheating scandal in Atlanta, GA. Don’t get me wrong. Cheating is cheating. It’s morally wrong. It sets an unethical precedent in any school environment. But I wonder if the focus of the blame – on a handful of educators – is well placed. Shouldn’t the bigger blame be aimed at the institution that caused the cheating in the first place; the standards movement and its draconian accountability component? Like so much in modern American society, we want quick fixes to complex problems. Remedies are always aimed at the symptoms, hardly ever the true root cause.
But maybe, just maybe, this scandal will have some positive influence on the current debate about the Common Core and national standardized testing. Maybe legislators who believe that the symptoms of poor education can be treated by a simple application of more intensive instruction will take heed. Perhaps they will begin to see that data from nationally or criterion referenced testing does not provide a definitive diagnosis to the more serious problems facing our educational system: poverty, immigration status, and inadequate pre-school programming to name only a few.
Poor standardized test results – since No Child Left Behind (2001) was implemented – automatically generate punitive measures for all involved. School administration is taken over by the state. School leaders are fired or reassigned. With no consideration of student socio-economic factors, like poverty, English as a second language, or special needs, teachers are being evaluated by how well students do on these tests. ‘Last hired’ is now ‘first fired’ policy regardless of teacher dedication or effectiveness. Teachers unions are both scapegoat and pariah. Perhaps the most detrimental of all, economic business development depends on the presence of good local schools. This alone is impetus to inflate local test scores. That’s what seems to have triggered the scandal in Georgia. And above it all, the media, as its public duty, seems to delight in publicizing – in descending order – school rankings.
This enormous pressure to achieve has pointed to the total wrongheadedness of test driven accountability. I’ll have more thoughts about standardized testing in future posts. Stay tunes.