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The test for teachers – mastering their fears

The Atlanta teacher scandal isn’t a testing problem, it’s an issue of integrity and honesty.

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School's out for the summer, but school reform is suddenly heating up like a Georgia peanut farm in July.

A scorching July 5 report released by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal revealed that almost 80 percent of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools showed signs of cheating by teachers on statewide-mandated performance tests, called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. Teachers have admitted to changing test papers to improve scores in their schools. At least six top educators in the Atlanta system have been asked to step down by interim school superintendent Erroll Davis.

Scandals involving students who cheat, while always serious, are nothing new. But widespread cheating by those hired to teach children represents a different, and equally disturbing, development.

In 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind Act launched a trend toward greater accountability in education, increasing the importance placed on standardized tests as a way to benchmark success.

Now it appears that the demands to see test scores rise are giving way to a temptation to cheat.

Teachers can often earn bonuses for showing improvement on tests by their students. At the same time, they may fear – sometimes with good cause – that their jobs will be at stake if their students don’t test better. They also may feel pressure not to let down fellow teachers and administrators.

Unfortunately, Atlanta is not facing this problem alone. Reports of other instances of cheating continue to be heard around the United States. In Massachusetts, for example, education officials had to invalidate 74 math exams taken at an elementary school in Somerset last year because they showed a “disturbing pattern” of student answers, indicating teacher tampering.

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