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The Atlanta Cheating Scandal Verdict

By convicting 11 out of 12 defendants of cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, an Atlanta jury sent a clear message that the educational system in Georgia needs reassessment ("Educators Convicted in School Cheating Scandal," The New York Times, Apr. 2). I submit that only one new answer will emerge.

We already know the enormous pressure that high-stakes tests create for teachers and administrators.  We also already know about the existence of Campbell's Law (the more any quantitative indicator is used for decision making, the more it will be subject to corruption and the more it will corrupt the very process it is intended to monitor).  Nevertheless, these few - out of 3,000 teachers in the district - dishonored themselves and their profession. They put their jobs ahead of the interests of their students. 

There is no getting around that fact.  Yet I wouldn't be surprised if another cheating scandal arises elsewhere, despite the heavy penalties likely to be levied in Atlanta.  Don't forget that cheating has already occured in at least 40 states ("Why the Atlanta cheating scandal failed to bring about national reform," The Guardian, Apr.1). If fear of being fired and going to jail were enough of a deterrent, these scandals would not have occured in the first place. But rather than abolish standardized tests, as some have urged, I have another proposal: Let's follow Finland's approach.  

Each year about 100 schools are randomly selected for testing. The results are never made public. Instead, they are used strictly for diagnostic purposes. As a result, teachers actually welcome the testing because it provides them with useful feedback about their instruction. This is the antithesis of what takes place in this country. I don't know any teacher who would resist this strategy.  If I were still teaching, I would certainly look forward to the results.  But I doubt Finland's policy will ever become reality here because the need to punish is too great.

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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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