Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is Cheating Becoming Standard?

Interesting article in USA Today Yesterday about teachers and administrators who have been caught cheating on high stakes standardized tests. The crib notes version is that after a particular set of students' tests get flagged for showing an unusually big increase from one year to the next followed by an equally suspicious drop to normal the following year, an investigation is conducted. The uptick frequently turns out to be a teacher who gave students the answers ahead of time. Another way a set of tests can get flagged is by a software program that keeps track of erasures and blows the whistle when there are a lot of erasures that have been changed from incorrect to correct answers. The culprit there can be a teacher or an administrator with a number two pencil post-test.

This is inevitable right? The problem with standardized testing is not with the tests. Nor is it with wanting to hold schools and teachers accountable for making sure their students are able to meet certain standards. The problem is when the stakes that are tied to the tests impact the financial bottom line--whether that's someone's personal bank account or a school's ability to get government money. Doping came into sports when big money came into sports. People who are in the upper echelons of the tax bracket seek loopholes. White collar crime is rarely for chump change. Cheaters do prosper provided they don't get caught.

We need a less fiscally pressured approach to accountability in schools. It's a corruption of the learning process to tie its outcomes to dollar signs. That corruption in turn corrupts people who probably did not get into education to cheat their students out of a realistic assessment of their progress.

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