Back in the Bush era, Washington imposed standardized tests as a measure of success in public education. The Obama administration, presumably enthralled by the mystique of assessment (and the influence of the folks selling the tests), continued this policy.
Shortly after standardized tests became the major focus of education, I heard rumors of cheating through the educational grapevine. Unlike the usual sort of cheating, this was allegedly being done by teachers and school administrators. I did acquire some confirmation regarding the rumors and heard that some people were punished for their misdeeds.
Given this background information, I was not at all surprise when it was revealed that the Atlanta Public School system has allegedly been a hotbed of cheating. I do admit that the extent of the alleged cheating was a minor shock: 44 out of the 56 schools investigated were accused of harboring cheaters, 38 principles were accused, 178 teachers took the Fifth and 82 confessed to cheating on the tests (typically by replacing erroneous answers with the right ones). The cheating seems to have been systematic in nature, rather than just the work of a few bad apples.
Such dishonesty cannot be condoned, especially when it involves educators. We are supposed to teach and enforce principles of academic integrity and ethics. As such, for us to break them is a double offense. That said, I do understand why teachers and administrators would resort to cheating.
First, these standardized tests were imposed on the schools rather than being developed internally as an effective education tool. People generally react poorly to such impositions and are often naturally inclined to resist them (just ask the Tea Party folks). Second, the state made the test results very important and linked them to such things as raises and funding. While this did cause teachers to switch from actually teaching to engaging in test preparation, it would also motivate people to cheat-especially given the fact that these standardized tests are of somewhat dubious merit in terms of assessing student ability and teacher effectiveness. Third, while the state imposed on the schools, little (or nothing) was done to provide more funding and support for education. In fact, many states have been busily cutting into teacher’s benefits and salaries while often linking job security to the test results. This has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Fourth, many educators (myself included) have serious and well founded doubts about the effectiveness and merits of the standardized tests that have become an obsession of the state. When people believe that something is bureaucratic bullshit, they tend to try to subvert it and get around it.
It should be noted that I am not justifying the cheaters’ actions, but providing an explanation as to why they might have believed it was acceptable to cheat. To accuse me of justifying these actions would be to fall victim to the fallacy of confusing an explanation with an excuse.
Those engaged in the cheating should, of course, face the consequences of their actions. As educators, they are expected to act with integrity and honesty. However, this situation should also be taken as indicating that standardized testing in public schools needs to be reassessed. Unfortunately, the companies that sell the tests have a rather strong lobby, hence I suspect that nothing will be done to address this blight on education and hence the problems will continue.