Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cheating Schools in Atlanta: Could it Happen in Durham?

Could it happen in Durham, NC? Is it possible that the scandal that has ripped the reputation of teachers and administrators within the Atlanta public school system could happen in our own backyard?

In case you missed it, the Atlanta public schools system is entangled in an unprecedented cheating scandal involving 178 principals and teachers, and 44 different schools. A recent investigation uncovered a decade of cheating were educators erased wrong answers on state standardized test, and inserted the right ones. 82 of the 178 educators under investigation confessed.

The reason given is the massive pressure to meet state guidelines. Teachers and administrators decided to change the rules given their inability to meet expectations the right way. Maybe they felt the test creates an environment that encumbers the delivery of quality education. What does one do when funding is linked to test performance, and you have to face attacks because of the limits of those who show up at your school?

Is this what happens when the test controls the way we measure teachers and administrators? At the end of the day, the test is used to gauge more than the advancement of the pupil. It is used to determine the limits and strengths of both the teachers and administrators at the school. The pressure to meet end of the year goals is enough to tempt a teacher to change those answers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cosigning on the mistakes made. The purpose of education is to do more than teach things measured on a test. Schools should teach integrity. Any time a teachers changes the answers they have denounced their role as molders of character. Those heads should roll down in Hotlanta.

But there is a deeper issue on the table. It’s one that could be lost in the fury of the moment. It’s imperative that educators examine the implications related to creating a culture of competition and reprimand joined to a standardized test.

What does a teacher do when there is a federal law that states all schools have to have 100 percent of their students proficient in reading and math by the year 2014 or the school will be shut down? No Child Left Behind has helped rouse a climate of fear among teachers and administrators. The annual end of the year report card has become the sole gauge used to determine the success or failure of the school.

In Atlanta, the school system showed such amazing progress in 2009 that it led to Beverly Hall, the school system’s former superintendent, being named America’s superintendent of the year. Investigators of the scandal claim that Hall either knew of the cheating or should have. She has denied the accusation, but blames other employees.

So, is that what it takes to gain national recognition for turning a troubled school system around? It’s not the implementation of strategic plans with sounds systems of evaluations that moves schools in the right direction. It’s not facilitating parental and community involvement that makes that critical shift. Could it be that the key is to refuse to play by the rules? Simply cheat on the test. Get around the tragic execution of No Child Left Behind.

Could there be schools in Durham with teachers and administrators who have taken matters into their own hands by cheating on the test? Maybe we have a few sick and tired of being chewed up and thrown out due to a test that comes back below the line. What do we say to the teachers who can’t get the message across because the classroom needs a social worker more than a teacher?

What happens when that teacher is afraid of the consequences that come with not being able to teach in a way that meets expectations? Things are being taught, but they don’t show up in the test. Does that mean the teacher has failed? Should the principal at the school be detached for failing to show improvement?

I’m not saying it’s happening in Durham, NC, but if it is I wouldn’t be shocked. I wouldn’t be if it’s happening in Wake and Orange County. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if we discovered it’s happening in most schools across the nation. That’s what happens when the livelihood of people is determined on their ability to prove significant growth in others.

Yeah, heads should roll in Hotlanta. Fire everyone connected to this scandal. After we clean house, let’s take another look at No Child Left Behind.

Otherwise we tempt people to change the answers on the test.

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