by Lana Lynne on 7.21.2011
A few weeks ago, the school cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia, made headlines around the country with the revelation that 178 teachers and principals had been involved in altering test scores and conducting cover-ups to achieve high ratings on the standardized test known as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, results of which can be directly tied to teacher evaluations, bonuses, school funding and more. Although the largest, the Atlanta scandal is just one of dozens of similar allegations recently made throughout the country.
What many critics have been saying is that these scandals lay bare the risks of depending on high-stakes testing. When faced with the public shame of being a "failing" school or tying salaries to achievement, it turns out that people will do what it takes to stay afloat. A Slate article published today details these problems with incentivized testing, concluding, "When laws incentivize bad behavior, it's a good time to reconsider public policy, not to double down on it. ...The problem isn't the tests. But the problem is the carrots and sticks tied to them, which put too much emphasis on judging teachers and schools, and not enough on offering kids better instruction."
Although I'm of the camp that believes that the tests are indeed part of the problem (the most simplistic reason being that one method of testing can not begin to cover the wide range of learning styles), it's clear that the reward system is not working. As Noam Chomsky said in an interview about education, "There's a major attack on public education going on everywhere, which is shifting the nature of the educational system towards test passing, obedience, discipline, cutting back individual initiative and so on."
Another problem looming large behind these spate of cheating scandals (which the Slate article points out is not the first such run) is the effect of states' budget cuts to education. Take Berks County, Pennsylvania, for example. Evidently, under Governor Corbett's budget plan, the poorest school district in the county (Reading) will receive $11.9 million less than last year, which is the severest cut in the entire county. In Philadelphia county, schools will lose $300 million. With budget cuts, schools lose teachers, classes grow in size, after-school programs are eliminated, and so on. In this cutthroat climate, it appears that students are indeed the ones being left behind.
Image from politic365.com