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Atlanta Cheating Scandal Lessons

No matter what the final verdict is, the Atlanta Public Schools will forever be associated with the cheating scandal that rocked the city for five years ("In Atlanta, Jury Selection Is Set to Begin in Test Scandal," The New York Times, Aug. 11). Even if the 12 former school district employees are found not guilty, public education will never fully recover.

I say that because public schools are supposed to teach more than subject matter. They're also expected to prepare students for their responsibilities as citizens in a democratic society.  The fact that 178 principals and teachers were found by state investigators in 2011 to have changed standardized test scores to make it appear their students met benchmarks was shocking.  Adding to the humiliation was that the cheating took place when Beverly Hall was named national superintendent of the year in 2009.

But there were signs that all was not nearly as rosy as it appeared. In a series of articles, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution expressed doubt that test scores could rise so dramatically in such a short period of time.  That was always my view as I followed developments.  I don't believe in miracles, particularly when they involve test scores.  Scrutiny almost always reveals that the miracles are mirages.  In the Atlanta case, that turned out to be the truth.

Reformers like to cite Finland as a model for this country.  Yet they give short shrift to the role that standardized testing plays there.  Some 100 schools each year are selected for testing.  The results are used strictly for diagnostic purposes, and never made public.  It is anathema to shame teachers. I don't see why the same policy cannot be implemented in the U.S.  As long as we continue along the same path of naming and shaming, we can expect further scandals.  

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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