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In Atlanta cheating scandal, one culprit may be standardized testing

Some educators say the Atlanta cheating scandal is a warning sign of the dangers and perverse incentives that can result from a policy that stakes so much on standardized testing results.

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Photos of some of the 35 defendants in Atlanta's school cheating scandal decorate a board at the Fulton County Jail, April 2 in Atlanta. The defendants are named in a 65-count indictment that alleges a broad conspiracy involving cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools. All 35 defendants must turn themselves in Tuesday.

David Goldman / AP

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Former Atlanta educators and administrators are turning themselves in to authorities Tuesday after being indicted last week in a widespread cheating scandal.

In all, 35 teachers, principals, and administrators were named in the 65-count indictment, mostly under racketeering charges, which painted a broad portrait of corruption, cheating, and retaliation against educators who refused to participate or were whistle-blowers.

The 35 defendants, which include former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall, “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistleblowers in an effort to bolster CRCT [state test] scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” prosecutors said in a written statement.

The indictments, and the images of former teachers and principals turning themselves in to jail by Tuesday, bring to a head one of the biggest cheating scandals in recent education history, since it first began to emerge three years ago.

But Atlanta is certainly not the only district or school that has been tainted by cheating. And some educators say it serves as a stark warning sign of the dangers and perverse incentives that can result from a policy regime that stakes so much on standardized testing results.

“This says that something about our incentive system and our accountability system is way off,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Standardized testing should play a role, but it has now become the predominant, and some would say the only, factor in assessing whether schools are successful, whether teachers are successful, and whether students are successful,” she says.

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