The Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal grabbed national attention in 2011 as the largest in U.S. history. The Atlanta Journal Constitution revealed the results of a 10 month investigation by state officials. Teachers and school administrators altered standardized test scores.
Forty four of Atlanta’s 58 schools were involved. Those involved were required to quit or resign. What prompted the cheating? Could it happen in Palm Beach County?
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB) applies enormous accountability measures to teachers, schools and school districts regarding student performance on standardized high stakes tests. The NCLB and the pressure it represents to achieve positive results and “look good” concomitant with the incompetency, unprofessionalism and unethical behavior of all involved – school board members, superintendents, principals and teachers are the root causes for this humiliating situation. Other scandals have emerged in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Orlando.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “the district set unrealistic test score goals or targets, a culture of pressure and retaliation spread through the district and Hall (Beverly Hall, the previous superintendent) emphasized test results and public praise at the expense of ethics.” One teacher told investigators that the district was “run like a mob.” http://www.ajc.com
The sordid details in Atlanta and other school districts across the country confirm, in my mind, that school reform is mission impossible. We will sooner colonize Neptune than reform a broken national system.
The nature of standardized testing is part of the problem. Standardized tests are not the solution to properly and professionally evaluate schools and staff.By definition, standardized tests are used by schools and school districts to compare a student’s performance to other students of the same age and grade and to compare schools and school districts. It is also used to provide feedback to parents in the form of percentile ranks. If your child scored at the 70th percentile, that means that she scored better than 70 percent of the students who took the same test. Some school districts use these scores to determine promotion and to adjust curriculum and instruction protocols.
Standardized testing is convenient but not by any means comprehensive. Hebert J. Walberg, writing in “Evaluating Educational Performance,” states, “But we must avoid the error of equating what is most often measured or most conveniently measurable with what is most important in the environment and outcome domains.” 1
These high stakes tests are not comprehensive, offer a limited view of a learner’s capabilities and fall short of probing higher level thinking skills.
The State of Florida has tried to mitigate the pressure of using the results of one standardized test to evaluate teachers and school districts by examining standardized test results over a three year period. This still does not solve the issue of realistic teacher or school evaluation.
Parents must get involved in their child’s education by becoming more informed and proactive. There will never be a sufficient number of outstanding teachers or administrators. Parents must be part of the equation if they want their children to succeed. Get started and become immediately more informed by reading books, and gathering information about your school district’s expectations and curriculum.
1 Herbert J. Walberg, Evaluating Educational Performance (CA: McCutchan 1974) p.2.
Dr. Casale is a state and national award winning educator and the author of numerous articles and essays on Education. His highly praised guide for parents, Wise Up and Be the Solution: How to Create a Culture of Learning at Home and Make Your Child a Success in School, is available in book stores, on Amazon.com and from his website, www.parentsfirst.biz.