Cheating in Atlanta Schools


Haven’t you heard the sound of warning shots fired by some advocates on this problem already?  Haven’t you heard the warnings about the possibility of schools gaming the system when faced with high stakes test-based accountability measures? The report I read today describes one example of this actually happening in the state of Georgia in the United States.  Read the Education Week blog on the report regarding cheating in Atlanta schools.  Amongst other reasons for widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools, one, as expected, was:

Cheating was caused by a number of factors, but primarily by the pressure to meet targets in the data-driven environment.

This report should raise a worth pondering question for advocates of tests-based accountability of teachers in the developing countries as well.  If teachers find it extremely hard to raise the achievement to the levels required by the legislation,  and if standardised tests become the primary basis for decisions about the success or failure of teaching, then they, and not just the teachers but even schools collectively, can choose to game the system.   There is mounting evidence now that this indeed might be happening as a result of NCLB in the United States.  Do see some examples of this explosion of news videos about the instance of cheating in the United States below (they are not too long!)

In Atlanta

In Baltimore

Also see news reports on the following links:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/42344023#42344023

http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/education/schools-closing-cheating-scandal-20110301

However, the studies that support test-based accountability have so far not paid enough attention to the ways in which schools are gaming the system.  But making large and expensive leaps of policy without considering this possibility will only work further against the educational justice for all children.  When schools game the system, it is the historically disadvantaged that suffer more.  Test scores going up do not necessarily mean that students have been learning more.  Summative tests are reductive, and it is far too important to recognise this characteristic. Accountability regimens based on them can misfire, and it is far too important to recognise that possibility as well.

But this is not to say that they are not useful at all.  In fact, the results of large-scale testing can be very useful if they are used as a basis for involving teachers and other stakeholders in useful conversations about understanding what the students are not doing particularly well, and how teaching and learning in such areas could improve.

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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