When Adults Cheat

By Carol Lloyd

This week an investigative report from USA Today unleashed a maelstrom of incriminating evidence that high-stakes testing isnít working. Not because students arenít learning those deep thoughts that canít fit into a multiple choice format. Or because teaching to the test means omitting crucial curriculum. No, itís because sometimes adults cheat on kidsí tests.

Reporters investigated test scores in six states and Washington, DC and uncovered 1,610 examples of suspicious anomalies in public school stats. Such anomalies were characterized by a precipitous rise in class test scores one year; only for those same studentsí scores to plummet the following year. Using open records laws, the story cited cases where teachers and principals were found guilty of ďteaching to the testĒ so much that kids recognized problems on the exam exactly like those in their study guides.

Last week the Los Angeles Board of Education voted to shut down all six schools of Crescendo Charter system after the founder allegedly ordered principals to ďprepĒ their students using actual test questions.

The USA Today story has been criticized in some circles as heaping more vitriol on educators. Others saw it as more proof that our public school system is rotten to its roots. But I saw it in a different light. Iím not saying those teachers and principals who cheated on tests deserve sympathy. Their willingness to game the system is repugnant. Yet the whole episode bolsters the argument that when we prioritize test scores above all else, the emphasis on learning can get hopelessly lost. Both the gospel of testing and fraudulent score-boosting tactics share something in common: Either way, kids get cheated, one bubble at a time.

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3/14/11