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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Widespread cheating in Atlanta

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Valerie Strauss

Widespread cheating on 2009 standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools — despite “significant and clear” warnings — harmed thousands of students and resulted primarily from “pressure to meet targets” in a data-driven school system, according to results of an investigation released Tuesday.

Of the 56 schools that were examined, cheating was discovered in 44 of them — that’s more than 78 percent — and 178 teachers and principals were found to have cheated on standardized tests, according to a statement released by Gov. Nathan Deal and first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Eighty-two confessed, while half a dozen others pled the Fifth Amendment, which is an implied admission of wrongdoing under civil law.

And cheating was found years earlier than the 2009 administration of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT, according to the statement (which you can read in full below.)

Investigators also reported that there was a climate of “fear, intimidation and retaliation” in the school system, which put pressure on teachers and principals to meet specific standardized test score targets. That pressure, the report said, was the biggest factor in the cheating scandal.

Because test scores were inflated, thousands of children were denied the opportunity to receive tutoring that may have helped them do better in school, the probe concluded.

Atlanta is the first district in the country to admit wholesale cheating on standardized tests, but it is not likely to be the only one where such cheating occurred.

Cheating scandals have erupted across the country, including in Washington D.C. public schools, where a USA Today investigation raised suspicion of widespread cheating and where city officials have launched a review.

The cheating revelations in Atlanta have been dribbling out for some time, and Beverly Hall, the Atlanta school superintendent who was named 2009 Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators, announced late last year that she would step down this summer. She just left the job, her once stellar reputation tarnished by the issue.

Few who have paid attention in the education era of high-stakes testing will be surprised at this. And the stakes are only getting higher for teachers and principals, who are increasingly being evaluated and paid according to how well their students do on standardized tests, despite research showing that test-driven reform hasn’t made an impact in the last decade on student achievement. I wrote about the cheating issue last week in this post, titled “Cheating on standardized tests and roaches,” and it seems even more relevant today.

Here is the full statement on the Atlanta cheating investigation that was released Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal:

“Nothing is more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education and integrity in testing is a necessary piece of the equation,” said Deal. “When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated. The report’s findings are troubling, but I am encouraged that this investigation will bring closure to the problems that existed in APS and restore the focus on students and the classroom. As we begin to turn the page on this dark chapter in Atlanta Public Schools, I am confident brighter days lie ahead.”

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