What Can We Learn From the Atlanta Cheating Scandal?

What Can We Learn From the Atlanta Cheating Scandal? Last month, 35 educators in Atlanta, including former superintendent Beverly L. Hall, were indicted for their alleged roles in a scheme to alter students' answers on standardized tests. The indictments, coming on the heels of other district cheating scandals, have raised concerns both about test-based accountability and evaluation systems and the professional culture in many schools today.

As a teacher, what was your reaction to the Atlanta cheating scandal? In your view, what school cultural factors lead to cheating and how could these be changed? How could school compensation and performance-measurement systems be re-imagined to reduce negative incentives (such as cheating and teaching to the test), while still providing useful and transparent information on student learning?

Scaling Up the Discourse on Assessment Alternatives

Paul Barnwell If you're a member of a professional learning community, do you follow a protocol dominated by standardized test data? In your meetings, is defining student "success" seemingly limited to percentages on multiple-choice exams? Does the seemingly enforced definition of academic success drive you nuts? Here's one place to begin pushing back in order to speak about other successes we have in the classroom and on assessments: My follow panelist Darnell Fine led me to the National School Reform Faculty protocol to help expand discourse beyond test speak. Check it out. It pains me to admit that such a ...


Giving Students a Voice in the Testing Debate

Darnell Fine "We've been swimming with the alligators too long; it's time to drain the swamp." I picked up this quotation from another teacher while discussing the murky waters of education. When educators begin to function in ethically questionable ways, we must reformulate the objectives of public schools. For years, testing has stifled our teaching in the name of adequate yearly progress. But maybe we, the educators, aren't the ones flailing our arms around in the swamp. Maybe we are just alligators along with the businessmen, administrators, and other authority figures clamping their mouths around conversations about testing. When an ...


Teachers' Responses to Testing: The Atlanta-Seattle Connection

Ben Curran In her post Teacher Cheating Fails Students, educator Jessica Cuthbertson mentions "opting out" as an option for teachers when it comes to standardized tests. It brings to mind the recent story of teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle who refused to administer a standardized test. At first glance, there may not seem to be similarities between the stories in Atlanta and Seattle. But I got to thinking, and several questions about both situations came to mind. Among them: What if educators in Atlanta had chosen this option, rather than cheating? Obviously, the story would have a much ...


What's Your School's Data Story?

Jessica Cuthbertson In my first post, I wrote about three ways to "fight fair" while tackling test-driven school cultures and high-stakes accountability head-on. Advocacy, opting out, and leading at the local level are three proposed solutions. Another way to "fight fair" involves a different type of school data collection: the creation of a true data story. In my district, at the beginning of each school year, we spend a significant amount of time talking about our "data stories." A dictionary definition of the word story yields the following: "a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to ...


Measuring What Matters in Student Learning

Justin Minkel The best advice a king has ever given me came from King Charles II in the film "The Libertine": "Anyone can oppose. It's fun to be against things. But there comes a time when you have to start being for things as well." In the decade-old revolt against the harm inherent in No Child Left Behind, our profession has stated clearly what we're against: multiple choice tests that measure what matters least. But what are we for? Atlanta teacher Darnell Fine stated it eloquently in his first post in this forum: "Assessments must allow students to apply their ...


Cheating: A Symptom of the Crisis in Urban Schools

Ben Curran I know I am supposed to be shocked and surprised at the news of the Atlanta test-cheating scandal. However, I'm not. Not even close. When an environment of high-stakes testing is imposed upon educators, cheating and cover-ups are simply bound to happen. Telling well-qualified professionals that their livelihoods depend on the results of a one-time test (and a test that was probably designed and written by people who haven't stepped foot in a public school classroom since their last day in 12th grade), is eventually going to drive people to bend and break the rules. I have a ...


Changing the Test-Focused Discourse in Schools

Paul Barnwell I didn't read past the headlines when news of the Atlanta cheating scandal broke—it didn't surprise me one bit. After all, 12 years of the punitive No Child Left Behind law has hijacked our focus away from the learning process and well-rounded education and towards numbers represented by ill-conceived tests. As a young(er) teacher, I remember loathing the way NCLB seemed to dictate how we talked about education. This discourse—revolving almost solely around high-stakes assessment—has been a toxic fuel, distracting countless educators from promoting and practicing effective teaching and learning. I still cringe...


Teacher Cheating Fails Students

Jessica Cuthbertson My teaching mantra goes something like this: I want students to leave my classroom better people than they were the first day of school. Of course, I want them to love and excel at reading, writing, speaking and listening. I want them to know and understand literary concepts and connect with a wide variety of texts on deep, analytical levels. But at the end of the day, what I really want is for them to understand how being literate makes us more human. I want them to be kinder critical thinkers, more empathetic listeners and passionate learners. I ...


When Teachers Cheat: Looking Good, Being Bad

Justin Minkel Legend has it that in 18th century Russia, Governor Potemkin liked to impress Queen Catherine by taking her on boat trips to observe his stewardship of her realm. Their boat followed a winding river populated by lovely villages teeming with well-fed peasants. The villages only had one problem: They weren't real. Neither were the rosy-cheeked peasants. These "Potemkin villages" were painted wooden facades of houses mounted on wheels, and the actors playing the peasants would wave at Catherine and her retinue, then drag the fake houses to the next bend in the river once she was out of ...


Teacher Cheating: A Byproduct of Submissive Testing Culture

Darnell Fine In Atlanta, educators allegedly cheated by changing students' answers, but the state of Georgia cheats our students by mandating standardized tests in the first place. Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) drives instruction away from the development of performance skills and critical thinking. Schools are pressured to yield high scores and promised monetary bonuses if they do so. Under the circumstances, educators are duped into teaching to the test with skill-drill activities, ignoring why they became teachers to begin with. What is this faithful reverence for test scores anyway? The happy faces of parents when their child exceeds standards? ...


The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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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