What do we do with the cheaters?


As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

Right now I feel the need to vent, even though my rant might not move the ball forward. Next week I will pose the important question “Where do we go from here?” regarding the widespread cheating in Atlanta and apparently in a lot of other places as well, but that can wait.

I recall hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telling an audience of young girls that a special place in Hell was set aside for successful women who refused to help other women succeed.

An even hotter spot should be reserved for those adults who knowingly cheat children out of a decent education and lie to them about their achievements.

The cheaters in Atlanta, D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore and elsewhere took advantage of the neediest and most vulnerable children and changed their scores so it would appear they had mastered material, when they in fact had not. They weren’t thinking about the kids, of course, but only about themselves and the appearance of success.

Kids were numbers, nothing more, nothing less.

The scale of unethical behavior in Atlanta is staggering: According to the report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, of the 56 schools investigated, 44 cheated; so did 38 principals and 178 teachers (about 80 of whom have already confessed). But the lack of integrity did not start at the school level, and it appears to the investigators that the rot went all the way to the top, to Superintendent Beverly Hall. The report says that she either knew or should have known, but the culture of the system she created put public praise of her leadership above integrity and ethics. In her regime, the report says, a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation ruled, and any teacher who tried to blow the whistle was punished.

Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall displays her 2009 Superintendent of the Year medal.

Dr. Hall, who was the National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 — the highest honor given by the American Association of School Administrators — has resigned. She has apologized without admitting any wrongdoing.

Maybe she should do a Reggie Bush and give back that award, just as the former USC running back returned the Heisman Trophy — a few steps ahead of NCAA investigators.

The investigation focused on one school year, 2008-09, but the cheating must have started years earlier. It simply could not have grown so massive in just one year or two.

The report says that ‘thousands’ of children were affected but gets no more specific than that. Suppose that only 10% of students were affected; that’s about 5,000 kids. But the cheating went on for a few years, perhaps since 2001 or 2002, meaning that the cheaters stole a lot of years of opportunity from a lot of children.

And they are not just cheaters. They are also thieves.

Why did it continue undetected for so long? Probably because everyone wanted to believe in the remarkable success of low-income minority children. Closing the achievement gap has been education’s holy grail for many years, and now it’s happening right here in Atlanta. Who would want to pour cold water on that?

Any skepticism would likely have been met by skillful playing of the race card: “What, you don’t believe that poor African-American children can learn? Would you question the results if the children were white and middle class?” Michelle Rhee used that approach when people questioned the remarkable progress in Washington, D.C. and it worked there.

I told you what I think should happen to the guilty parties, and Georgia law actually provides for penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment for some offenses. But what will happen? The last cheating incident in Atlanta, about 10 years ago, produced two convictions but gentle slaps on the wrist: 40 hours of ‘community service’ in a soup kitchen, two years of probation and a fine of $1000 — the total punishment for the two offenders! That was quite a deterrent, wasn’t it?

(Ironic, isn’t it, that some of these adult thieves were responsible for making sure that students did not cheat.)

Officials from Education Secretary Arne Duncan on down are talking about ‘technical fixes’ and ‘better referees’ and closer monitoring to prevent this from happening again, but the horse is out of the barn here. And as long as test scores rule, cheating and other attempts to beat the system will continue.

And cheaters will find a way. Count on it, even if Atlanta’s cheaters go to jail, because, if the system is going to punish or even fire teachers and principals and administrators for students’ poor test scores, some are going to be tempted to get those scores up, by hook or by crook.

One does not have to be a skeptic or cynic to expect more cheating stories to emerge.

But what about the kids, the real victims? There’s no mulligan in life, and those 4th graders who didn’t master math or language arts are now 5th graders.

What should be done for them? How do we pay back the debt we owe them? I encourage you to comment here.

81 thoughts on “What do we do with the cheaters?

  1. We need to stop the madness of high stakes testing. We have real lives on the line with the testing. These are children who are called “failures” when they don’t pass despite hard work all year. These are teachers who work hard and move their children to the next level but somehow the scores don’t reflect that. These are schools with more challenges than there are days in the year but yet, the scores can’t reflect that. Instead of taking responsibility for the problems in our schools, these test scores put all the blame on the students and teachers. When are we going to try to solve the problems instead of playing the blame game and punishing people who work hard.
    As to the cheaters- No excuse really is good. They may be in fear for losing their job but they chose the easy way to handle it. Teachers and admin who cheated should be held accountable for this. Students look to their teachers as influential adults in their lives. The students of the teachers who cheated will never feel the same about teachers again.


    • You threaten teachers with their livelihood with tests for kids that is a proven farce and you are surprise teachers cheat. We decide that a teacher is not good on the basis of
      A test may be the kid failed because he did not study,poor parenting,hangs out with a gang


  2. What we can do for these children is stand up to politicians, Betsey DeVos, Michelle Rhee, and other pseudo reformers and demand that practicing public school teachers have a seat at the reform table. As long as those in power are able to dictate that rote memorization counts more than learning how to think, cheating will continue. We must start speaking up loudly for the children in this country and not back down in the face of legislation that seeks to keep the same 19th century management system in place for 21st century citizens or a public that doesn’t value education.


  3. There’s another form of “cheating” in all of this – gaming the test. Schools and districts pay millions of dollars to study the test’s questioning patterns and then tailor benchmark assessments and lessons to correlate with the highest frequency questions. This method cheats kids as bad as egregious cheating such as in Atlanta. People have called for the shut down of Crescendo Charter Schools in LA for cheating on the test (as they should be) – can’t we call for the shut down of Atlanta Public Schools as well? There has to be a better option for kids.


    • Robert, I love your “gaming the test” phrase — it’s spot on. I’ve been a public school teacher for 18 years, and I’ve seen this gaming the test for at least the past 10. Huge waste of money; huge waste of time.

      Although your call for slamming the doors on the cheaters may be appropriate, I wonder if it may be like throwing out the baby with the bath water — will it help in the long run?

      I think the better option for kids that you wonder about is a Results Only Learning Environment. If teachers would convert their classrooms into a ROLE, we could have the best of all worlds — excellent test scores (placate the bureaucrats) along with wonderful 21st-century teaching and learning (best for students).

      Results-only learning creates a learning community that provides students with autonomy as they master learning outcomes in a project-based environment. It does away with teaching to the test, and the costly tutorial programs are unnecessary.

      I never mention the test or teach test-taking strategies, and my students outperform their peers in traditional classrooms, while developing a remarkable thirst for learning. We focus on results, not outdated methods and tests.


  4. Certainly this is a sorry situation, but I believe that your righteous anger directed at the individual educators who cheated is missing the point, John. How did their actions actually “cheat children out of a decent education”? If the scores had not been doctored and the students had received their actual, failing scores, would the the response have been to improve their education in any meaningful way? No–more likely the result would have been even more drilling and test prep, elimination of any remaining recess, and more opportunities for politicians and pundits to rant about “no excuses.” With the 2014 deadline for all students in the country to score “proficient” rapidly approaching, it’s no wonder that the system is rotten with the kind of cynicism that leads to such a scandal.


    • Deborah is right, but the the cheaters are still thieves. We need to re-examine what we are doing, especially in classrooms with poor and minority kids. But we shouldn’t jump right to the top of the pyramid, because teachers and administrators have to be able to be relied up to say no to unscrupulous behavior


  5. John –

    Let’s assume that not all of the teachers in the Atlanta Public School system are rotten. What sort of mechanisms do they have for reporting questionable behavior “informally,” without being a “formal” whistleblower? (The quality of life, and the future employability, of formal whistleblowers pretty much crater with the blowing of the whistle…) To whom could they safely report this kind of behavior?

    Does APS have an organizational ombudsman where nasty behavior could be reported by concerned teachers with certainty of confidentiality? This is a proven mechanism for surfacing malfeasance in other venues – for example at Coca-Cola, and at Coca-Cola Enterprises, in Atlanta…

    Do other public school systems have ombudsmen for teachers and staff? (These focus on the internal constituencies and are quite different in function than parent or student “advocates” who focus on the “external” constituencies.)



    • Good questions. I don’t know about other systems. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation spells out what happened to whistle blowers, and it wasn’t pretty. In DC an investigation was essentially stopped, but now we hear that the US Department of Education is involved.
      It took an official investigation by the GBI to nail the Atlanta wrong-doers, and we don’t know yet, of course, what the consequences will be.


  6. There are many ways of cheating, some quite legal and reinforced by those with the best of intentions. I found a school system where 25% of its 9th grade routinely failed to pass into 10th grade (a pattern for nearly 20 years). When asked, they patiently – and self-satisfiedly – explained that “The kids didn’t pass their tests, so they couldn’t move on.” Under just about 10 minutes of follow up questions, the Superintendent gloated that his high school had the highest “gain scores” in the state from the 7th to 10th grade state exam and was regularly ranked the most productive on Standard & Poors state ranking then funded by the Gates Foundation.

    When I pointed out he had the highest gains because he drilled his lowest students an extra year, and that “cheating” is still…cheating, he quit. As did the Superintendent. As did the Guidance Director. And, by some kind of miraculous coincidence (coinciding with other Standard & Poor’s reorganizations and the economy’s collapse, due, no doubt, to similar metrics), the Gates Foundation stopped funding the S&P ranking.

    Two years later, a new staff had instituted a voluntary tutoring program, with 12th graders working with 9th graders who entered high school with poor grades and/or poor attendance. The grade retention rate dropped from 25% to 12% the first year, and is now less than 5%. Not coincidentally, grade retention is the largest single cause of dropout behavior – if they say you’re dumb loud enough you begin to believe it! – and the high school completion rate also jumped.

    It was not rocket science. It was obvious. And that earlier administration not only penalized 100 kids a year with an extra year of required coursework, but cost the system, the city and the state close to $500,000 a year in additional student costs. When the School Committee looked to me for a comment, I suggested they invest some of that savings in other, similarly productive innovations, and look hard to find how to save more kids, more time, and more credit.

    It’s not just the obvious cheats who cheat kids. That former Principal now leads a nearby Catholic high school, and, no doubt, is providing similar “leadership” in another, less demanding perhaps, venue.


    • Respectfully, Joe, cynicism here has a place. Who’s to say dropping from 25% to 5% in two short years wasn’t influenced by more than one single tutoring program? I have plenty of anecdotal history involving the APS, Rhee, Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong. “Miracle turnaround” stories that are too good to be true are usually… well, not true.

      Maybe the tutoring program worked. Or maybe the tutoring program worked a little, and other less-angelic factors also came into play. This isn’t an accusation; only a valid skepticism based on the ability to read news.


  7. Erasure and potential “cheating” also occurred in Florida as well. The national test obsession, which developed over the last 10 years and continuing on steroids now is the root of this. Failed policies then, failure up ahead. Parents are opposed to excessive testing and their voices cannot be ignored. I stand with the parents.


  8. These ‘reforms’ are a New York production and more of a political than an educational phenomenon. They got traction here and were exported from here by a mayor who was empowered by a legislature more than happy to turn over to him a perennially knotty problem (check the pedigree of the Superintendents in the cities John mentions).
    Parents were quickly stripped of any meaningful political power upon mayoral takeover of the public schools and politicians cowed into subservience by an immensely wealthy and willful individual. An impressive public relations unit was created within the Education Department to counter all bad news and ‘subversive’ ideas. Local media uniformly did Department of Education bidding and trashed dissenters.
    Yes, assuredly poor educational policy but policy which successfully neutered all opposition-legitimate and otherwise. Not a good situation in a democracy.


  9. I cry for my country. The most obvious truth about education still eludes our leaders: you can’t make the steer grow by weighing it more often or accurately. You have to figure out how to actually make it grow. If you punish lack of growth, ranchers will sandbag the scales. Duh!!

    We have to actually figure out how to teach 21st century kids. This is the biggest factor in educational success, not socioeconomic status, parental involvement or any other issue. Where this is understood, schools just work.

    Can someone please get the word out? Anyone have a megaphone out there?


  10. First and foremost it is wrong for teachers to cheat. Period. No excuses. None.

    Tests are not the problem. Life involves testing. Scientists have to test their findings before releasing drugs to the public. And driver’s licence tests are high stakes tests, but it needs to be done in order to ensure public safety.

    That said, the degree of testing is questionable but lets not get rid of testing but ask that they reform it state by state. Perhaps with the common core standards rolling out, this will help us get to a place of consistency and help problem solve better at a national scale instead of piecing it state by state, district by distrct.


  11. With children, we don’t go back. We move forward. Assess them where they are today and keep working at it. We have no time or dime to lose and we need to invest all our energies and resources we have to get them to where they need to be. Period. No more excuses. Teachers, staff and administrators either come to the table and be willing to give it their all, or they leave the system and make room for someone who does want to do it. With high unemployment we should no problems finding people who are willing to work hard for our children.


  12. Several years ago there was a cheating scandal at one of Baltimore’s few middle-class public schools. The offending teachers were suspended without pay, and there were big headlines in the Sun. Then the parents, through the PTA, declared that their darlings could not possibly have cheated. I was the Sun’s education editor at the time, and I volunteered to act as an impartial judge. With permission of the state and city school chiefs, I had the test booklets delivered to me in a windowless room at the state ed department. As I reported to the PTA president the next day, all of the short essay responses in the fourth grade were identically worded. I never wrote about it. The teachers already had been punished and the school shamed. But what was striking about this case was that adults AND children at this school had been complicit in the cheating.


  13. I’m so sorry that high stakes testing is (constantly) lifted up as the culprit, diverting us from paying attention to the real challenges. Before NCLB, we did not have what many referred to as high stakes testing. Thus, presumably, poor kids were well-educated; NAEP scores were high; we performed well in an international context; teachers were valued; critical thinking and problem solving and a broad array of disciplines including the arts were an important part of every school’s curriculum, especially in the poorest urban areas.

    Huh? On what planet?

    The real challenges include changing the standards so they reflect what we want our own kids to know and be able to do and having assessment strategies that measure those sophisticated standards and accountability systems for schools and educators that are fair and track how and on what timetable changes in schools take place.

    That said, however, the real need, especially for low-income kids are: highly qualified home visitors from pregnancy at least through the early years; a two generation approach to child well-being that supports the family and takes advantage of parent(s)’ love and passion for their children; high quality childcare and early education opportunities from birth delivering a child to kindergarten ready to succeed physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally; continuing two generation support for children and their families at least through the third grade; class size until the 4rd grade of 17 or below; and colleges of education competing successfully with law, medicine, engineering for the best students. There are others. These make the point.

    Doing those things is far tougher than abolishing high stakes tests. But abolishing the tests will not result in what we all want to see for all kids; we know that for a fact; as they say, it is evidence based…for decades prior to NCLB where, without the high stakes testing (then normed based with Lake Wobegon effects), we often marveled at how good schools were who happened to have few enough low income students that they could hide the school’s failure with those students in the higher averages generated by the non-poor.

    Doing the hard things will produce what we want: look at the evidence behind Nurse Family Partnerships: High Scope and the Child Parent early childhood work in Chicago; the low class size work in Tennessee; extended time results in multiple studies, etc. etc.

    It will require political involvement and getting rid of people who think that low taxes for millionaires is good economic policy or people who sign pledges that say black families in slavery were better off that black families today (like Santorum and Bachman) or who put teachers not wall street bankers as the culprits for the recession. It’s much tougher than getting rid of testing. And yet getting rid of testing gets way more ink than what really needs to happen.

    If even the folks who read John regularly were to come together (organize us John), develop a short agenda of what evidence strongly suggests would make a difference, and find 10 friends to educate about these things (with info from John and an equivalent of Wikipedia built around evidence based education/organizing practices to which we could all contribute and then figure a way to take targeted, strategic small p political action, maybe we could make a difference…especially if over time we could convince our ten friends to each find ten more.

    I am so frustrated by the tea partiers to have enough discipline to do the crazy stuff they do (even intimidate the House of Representatives) while we (progressives or whatever each of us calls ourselves) wherever we stand on testing can’t get our act together to build tea party like support for universal quality childcare and early education.


    • David, not my job to organize, even if I were capable. I’m just a reporter, albeit one with an occasional axe to grind. I think we may see significant resistance at the state level, but which state? Idaho? Montana? Tennessee? Who has the courage and the political skills to create a non-partisan coalition?


    • David, you have some remarkably sound ideas for improving education. What you fail to realize, as most non-educators do, is that the demand for schools to get students to pass high stakes tests creates a school day cluttered with remediation and test-taking strategies. These get in the way of quality education, mainly because teachers are coached by administrators and mentor teachers that this is the only way to educate.

      Another problem you overlook is the money that is being spent on new test-preparation books and online tutorial programs. This money could be well-spent on some of the better options you outline in paragraph 4 of your comment.

      How we get parents to do a better job parenting is a much tougher issue. perhaps we should make everyone who wants to procreate read Alfie Kohn’s book, Unconditional Parenting, before they conceive.

      Trust me, though, the test is the biggest problem, and when I taught 15 years ago, when there were no tests, my students had many more wonderful learning opportunities.


      • I share your reaction to cluttered school days and money spent on things that don’t improve education and learning; won’t comment on the proposed regulations on parents as they are about to conceive.

        My point is that on the whole (can’t speak to your classroom) we did no better by children, especially low-income children, before NCLB on matters like critical thinking, problem solving, art, music, etc than now. Tests did not usher in our poor performance. Our using Tayloristic, assembly line practices and not paying attention to the child and family support features kids need led to our relatively poor performance pre NCLB and now (indeed, as it relates to low-income and minority children, pre NCLB, we often didn’t know how we were doing because we hid the poor performance of those children behind higher averages of white, more affluent kids. The poor, the minority were even more invisible). Thus, the facts don’t let me “trust you”. We can exert great energy and probably get rid of the tests (I’m enthusiastically in favor of changing them, their timetable, etc) and we will simply have returned to a previously poor performing time. Let’s put the advocacy energy into something that when we succeed we will have moved performance forward, not backward, especially for the children most in need.


      • David, not sure you realize it, but you and I agree on this. I’m completely in favor of education reform. If you view my blog, http://www.resultsonlylearning.com, you’ll see that I already teach in a progressive, revolutionary way — no rules and consequences, no homework, no worksheets, no tests and quizzes and no points or letter grades.

        My class is a learning community, driven by year-long projects, amazing technology integration, autonomy and complete mastery of skills. My students evaluate their own learning and grade themselves. Even though I never teach to the test, my students outperform their peers in traditional classes. Best of all, parents love our stress-free classroom, where they see their children learning more than ever.

        If loud voices, like the ones here, will push for schools to move to Results Only Learning Environments, we can create the kind of education that will change everything.


      • I’ll add that test prep and other curriculum development is a huge cost and much of the product is underwhelming. In my urban district, upwards of eight figures are spent on programs that nobody with teaching experience can think is worthwhile. Then, halfway through the year, the program is scrapped.

        I can’t claim districts are flush with funds, but with some strategic budgeting our schools would be in better shape.


    • David, I heartily concur that our nation must address poverty and its consequences. I concur with your suggestions, though they remain in the realm of fixing the consequences of the problem (poverty) rather than poverty itself.

      Where I don’t agree is your tendency to absolve testing. Certainly true that assembly-line schooling pre-dates high-stakes test use, but tests are now a huge obstacle to improving schools. It is a boulder blocking the path, and many with huge sums of money behind them (see the Jonah Edelman scandal, the Gates and Broad and Walton and many hedge-funders) are putting more boulders in the path. We could debate why they are doing this, but in any event they are, and tests are now a huge obstacle to really improving schools. They not only distort the schools, but are used to divert attention from critically important issues (“no excuses”).

      When in response to Atlanta we have Duncan and Checker Finn et al calling for more policing while continuing the testing, we can see just how important the testing machinery is to the educational deform endeavor.

      So we must address the testing problem, even knowing that doing so is only one necessary step.


  14. John, I share your sense of outrage. I believe that cheating is going onat many different levels, which some of the other commenters have described, such as states that lower the passing mark, districts that inundate students with carefully tailored interim assessments that mirror the actual test questions, and districts that teach test-taking skills, not content. We have become so obsessed with targets and data that we have lost any sense of what education is or should be. In an era of ever-higher stakes for scores, states and districts need independent auditors, perhaps then there would be a safe place for whistle blowers and an honest accounting. Over the past decade we have created a huge structure that is producing a narrowed curriculum, inflated scores, gaming the system. That’s what the recent report from the National Research Council concluded after a nine-year study (“Inentives and Test-Based Accountability”). We need fresh thinking, not more of the same.
    Diane Ravitch


    • You have done more than anyone to address these fundamental dishonesties. The challenge is to stand firmly FOR something, and be concrete about it. You may be the person David Hornbeck is looking for…(see above)


    • Well-said. Being “obsessed with targets and data” mean losing almost all the joy that teaching can mean.


    • Two very different threads connect the need to organize and the poverty of testing. I spent yesterday morning at a workshop led by Education2020 (http://www.education2020.com/), an online instruction firm marketing credit recovery courses to k-12 schools. What they sell is the logical extension of automated testing: automated instruction. Ironically, it’s amusing and, given the choice of rage or subversion, the latter is both more productive and, I think, more productive. Their entire system – like many commercial online education sources – is thoroughly didactic and linear: do the first thing first, second thing second, and so forth. Unlike some, however, they allow a great deal of adaptation, supposedly by teachers, to frame courses to meet local or classroom or individual needs. My idea was – and remains – to use the course as a game, wherein kids who get high test scores “win” the opportunity to rewrite the course for the next kids.

      The other theme complements that subversion, and it’s my favorite topic: electronic portfolios of student work, constructed by students using Arnold Packer’s Verified Resume “soft skills” headings. When portfolios use a template, they move several steps from pure qualitative promotional assessments toward the more dispassionate metrics of tests, and the soft skills are a superb alternative to the “common core standards” of test makers and online automatons. We can compare kid achievements over time, across subjects, across classes and years, and they can show their increased focus on expression, on careers, and on their own view of their future.

      Rather than fall into the intolerable abyss of choosing “objective” or “subjective” measures, we can acknowledge that both have value, and celebrate the paradox of making meaningless tests a meaningful complement to the deliberate intentions and growing clarity our children demonstrate in their portfolios. They not only “know stuff” and can show it on a test, but they can also know why, how, and where to use that stuff to make change and build that future. That’s the point of both instruction and assessment in any case, and it pays to reduce this nasty dialog – which, not coincidentally, mirrors what’s going on in Congress – to help kids make their case and imagine their life when we’re gone.

      Finally, there is the question of organizing. From my work – decades ago – with the Alinsky’s, it was apparent then as it is now, that we do…what…we…can do. I would argue, on that basis, that John is ALREADY organizing – capturing the likes of Hornbeck and Ravitch in the same dialog represents precisely that. And that we are blessed with a national education system which isn’t…really…national, but rather a patchwork of localities with an extremely heterogeneous network. That “system” is much like the internet, and organizing on the internet ain’t like organizing in Back-of-the-Yards or Industrial Areas. It’s a little talk here, and a little talk there, some listening and some affirmations, some research and some promotions. It is what we’re all going. Here. Now.

      When a friend of mine interviewed Cesar Chavez a long, long time ago, he asked Chavez to define “community organizing.” “Well, you talk with some people, and then talk with some people, and then talk with some more people.” So be it.


  15. John,

    This cheating scandal (along with the others that have been chronicled and those inevitably yet to be discovered) also has me fuming. If I were a parent of a low performing kid at one of these Atlanta schools who missed out on say, special education services, I would be looking for a lawyer right now.

    As both sides will use the incident to hammer their respective pro-accountability or anti-testing positions, I find myself thinking about how difficult it is to implement ANYTHING in a classroom without real teacher buy in.

    The problem with “accountability” is that the old guard teachers and administrators (or at least some of them) don’t believe in what they are being asked to do. Thus they cheat — legally or illegally — looking for a way to game the system somehow. They have been taught to resent this — that they’ve been offered a bait and switch in the sense that their system and their jobs are being changed in a way they never signed up for. It all seems to make them less accountable.

    On the other hand, if we throw testing out the window, I don’t see how that will make the teachers and administrators who resent this system any better teachers.

    I wonder how this will change as new younger teachers — who understand the new metric-driven universe isn’t going away — replace the current teachers. Will they see testing as measuring tool for their own learning? Will they come to resent it when they can’t get their children’s test scores up? I think of the some of the high performing charter school teachers I’ve met who genuinely believe that their strengths as teachers will show up in their student’s improved test scores — will all new teachers embrace their perspective and change the tenor of education debates?


    • I think the new breed of teachers represent a ray of hope. The teaching profession is getting younger, greener, whiter and more female, and that’s not all good, of course, but the new generation is also made up of digital natives who, we hope, recognize that data can and should be used to improve instruction, not to play ‘gotcha’.


  16. Here’s a novel approach John, why not sit down with the kids that the education pundits are trying to fit in the same little box, determine what they are interested in and have a conversation with them to see if they can express themselves in a manner that’s understandable and can react in an acceptable manner to other ideas in the room. Let’s see if they can tell us about their own interests in art and music. Let’s see if they can tell us about what amazes them in the sciences. Let’s see if they can sum up highlights of the conversation and commit them to paper. Incessant testing doesn’t prepare children or young adults to be well-rounded, honorable contributors to society (and it doesn’t reflect the quality of the teaching they receive either).


  17. It has been painful, on so many levels, to watch this unfold, along with the implosion of my hometown school district (Detroit), and other needless wasting of human potential across the nation in our educational systems.

    To respond to your specific questions about the children and the cheaters:

    The best solution I can think of for the students would be to shift the entire system away from grade levels (4th, 5th, etc) and work with the students based on individual level of proficiency in each academic area. Grade levels are pretty much arbitrary means of dividing students by age to which certain academic criteria were later attached. Keep the age-based groupings, but allow and motivate children to advance towards the curriculum goals independently led by teams of teachers and support personnel that span subject and skill areas. Okay, that may be too idealistic, but it would solve not only this problem but several others. Essentially, we should start with the children where they are academically, and move forward.

    For the adults involved, the least that should happen is loss of licenses or certifications. This is a professional ethics issue; they should not be allowed to practice. More of us teachers, parents, and concerned citizens are going to have to take a stand that all this low-level testing and test prep must be replaced with real teaching and learning for all children. That’s one reason for the SOS March later this month in DC. I’m surprised more parents, teachers, and students haven’t hit the streets before now.


    • These are great suggestions. My colleagues interviewed the acting superintendent today. We will find out what he said soon, on the NewsHour


    • Renee

      You are absolutely on point with a key weakness of our current approach to schools – the entire idea of grade levels, and cohorts, which is already (a) ignoring developmental differences (likely to be made worse by the new proposal for preschool testing from DOE) and (b) logically and inevitably leads to rationalizing the use of standardized measurements which lead to standardized instruction which serves few of our students well.

      Our misuse of tests is a symptom, not a cause, of what is wrong. We are seeing Campbell’s law writ large, and should not be surprised by what has happened – not just the “cheating” of teachers and principals, but the games played by states (Texas with its tests while Bush was Governor), Cities (DC under Rhee and NYC under Bloomberg) where claims are made without honestly examining what the data really tells us, and national policy makers – in governments, think tanks, foundations, etc – whose emphasis on test scores and on the economic purposes of education serve to narrow what our schools do and deprive many students of a meaningful education.

      If David Hornbeck reads this, my only quibble with your remarks is that I do not think you realize how important it is to confront the framing of the conversation on test scores in order to make the kinds of meaningful change to which i know you are dedicated. So long as the discussion is in the framework of test scores and what they mean, we cannot and will not move on to the discussions we should be having – the purposes of school and education, how we best serve our individual students, the values beyond economics of learning, etc.


  18. I agree with Renee, as a teacher, that the last should happen is that the perpetrators should lose their teaching certifications. And as far as the kids go they should be promised additional tutoring or remediation..

    It is a disaster to ignore students because they are ranked “proficient” when they aren’t anywhere near that. It all comes down to integrity.

    You have to have courage to fail kids when necessary and tell the truth.

    The truth is the Atlanta scrum teacher-men and teacher-women were cowards who could not face the truth that they were completely overwhelmed by social and economic forces beyond their ken and abilities. I add perhaps, they were probably beyond the ken and abilities of many fine teachers.

    There was a yellow brick road of temptation however tnat that was to fake the results and thus claim the “glory” of being the most successful educators since Socrates at the least.

    Deceit and trickery are the handmaidens of sucess in modern American society. Those who were involved in this scandal added a crown of hypocrisy to their intellectual bankruptcy.

    Where honest action was needed they responded with dishonest complacency. Instead of cultivating inner virtue and patience in the face of poverty, opression, neglect and ignorance they clothed themselves in the finery of their egos.

    Like the Emperor in his New Clothes they appeared temporaily distinguished but it all turned out to be a facile deception a house of cards EASILY exposed.

    Cheaters are always caught because they are greedy. Cheaters are caught because the truth always comes out. Cheaters found their educational paideia on a foundation of sand.

    I always tell my students I prefer an honest B or an honest C to a dishonest hollow grade that is meaningless.

    The deepest truths are simple and the deepest truth of all is having a good character. Truth is deep and lasting and resonant.

    Perhaps we will learn that “data” is no substitute for the personal professional judgment of a classroom teacher.

    When we see :so-called “scholars” manipulate test results we must turn away in revulsion.

    . This is not education; this is not the pursuit of knowledge but instead its most corrupt opposite.

    When man chases after “glory” and “fame” with such hubris it is to invite Nemesis.

    I recall some years ago, in a close ball game, a student player who was red-carded wanted to put on the shirt of a player who was absent so that we could “win”. I told him to sit down and shut up. He persisted and said “no one will know, no one will know the difference.”

    I glared at him and said “I would know. The team would know and God would know. What does it matter if you gain the whole world by treachery and lose your honor, your dignity and your soul?”

    We lost that game 3-2 on a corner kick. We did not win the championship. But three of my players had straight A’s and every single senior graduated from high school.

    They are not now, famous or great, just managers of restaurants, just managers of grocery stores, just NCO’s in the Marine Corps, just teachers in the classroom,just citizens and voters and jurors, just husbands with wives and just fathers who try their best to teach their kids right from wrong. But most are now men of honor and worth and inner strength and no one can take that away from you no matter what the circumstance even a concentration camp as Viktor Frankl pointed out in MAN’S QUEST FOR MEANING.

    Integrity and honor are worth more than gold or the empty praise of the moment.

    I would like to say i learned this in a Teacher Ed school but I did not.

    Ethics and morality were subjects scarcely spoken of. Sad but true.


  19. What should be done for the children is STOP TESTING THEM immediately, and start teaching them according to classic progressive principles: active learning, projects, deep involvement, trips, science, social studies, art, music and NO MORE TESTS. Immediately start teaching teachers how to use the Learning Record for evaluation. Get Montessori math folks in there, with lots of money for the fabulous materials. Start gardens, keep pets, read real books, do experiments, build models. You know, what goes on at Sidwell Friends (she said, angrily).
    Susan Harman, Ed.D.


    • The suggestions you are making regarding the presentation of teaching, it doesn’t fit into the “corporate thought” that has taken over the conversation and direction of education. There are too many people “sitting at the table” discussing how to reform education that don’t have any real knowledge as to how children learn! Start gardens, keep pets, read real books, do experiments, build models; these are activities that engage children and allow them to actively participate in learning. This is also something many adults don’t see as a method of teaching because they don’t understand How Children Learn! Politicians need to get up from the table and give their seat to those who understand children.


  20. John, does your praise for Diane R include agreement on the following assertion she made above:
    “We have become so obsessed with targets and data that we have lost any sense of what education is or should be.” ?

    I’ve visited a number of public schools with high test scores, serving low income youngsters, that also are filled with music, art, projects and other fine things that are, at least to me, what education is or should be. Seems to me that some of the assertions, such as this one quoted above, are as extreme as some you and she criticize.


    • But, by definition, the schools you describe are not ‘obsessed’ with test scores but have achieved a balance. That’s what we need, isn’t it? I suspect that Diane would be happy with the schools you are describing. I know I would be.


      • Hey Joe and John, I would guess that there is no school “obsessed” with test scores, while still embracing the arts and valuing project-based learning, that has a large percentage of students passing standardized tests. These two — obsession with scores and a thirst for real learning — simply do not co-exist.

        When teachers spend most of their days teaching test-taking strategies and droning on about the value of “The Test,” very little meaningful learning takes place.


  21. Testing and Learning are not the same. Because of the emphasis that has been placed on testing, the the threats of educators losing their jobs as a result of test scores, adults have stooped to cheating. But think about it…..whe­n the students come from background­s where reading and literacy is an issue from the home environmen­t and they come to school at a disadvanta­ge with fewer words in their vocabulary­, the teachers’ jobs are on the line as a results of test scores…d­esperate times creates desperate actions and results. This is a result of bad policy that has been created by politician­s as they threatened profession­al/teacher­s with the loss of their employment based on test results that are influenced by outside sources they have no control over.


  22. In my child’s DC classroom the two teachers have repeatedly told me that the test is a poor measure of a child’s ability. They jsut did not give it much creadance. Having done independent testing, I know that the tests whatever they measure did accurately reflect the struggles my child has been having and that have been dismissed by her teachers.

    I know that when people don’t respect a system then they don’t worrry if it is not perfectly implemented. Someone games the system, well it is a poor system. I don’t know if people should drink the koolaid in terms of testing. I have read Rativich and see some of her points, but I also know that teachers resist most points of accountability and children like my daughter get can easily get lost in the system.

    What I want to know as a parent is where is the bottom line of responsibility if you are teacher, princpal, superindendent. What do you view as my responsility? What is a student’s responsibility? You may hate Rhee but I think she was right in terms of saying that a lot of adults have their own interests in mind, not the students.


    • Dear Washington DC Parent, I’ve been teaching for 18 years. Let me tell you that the test is the worst way to measure achievement, regardless of what’s happened with your child. I don’t know your child’s teachers, but I do know that judging your child on how many times he/she recognizes that A, B, C or D is the correct answer to some convoluted question is a short-sighted way to evaluate academic progress.

      With all due respect, there’s no kind of test, whether you administered it or a school did, that is accurate at measuring achievement. There are far too many variables involved in learning that are not considered in tests written by people outside of the arena where the learning takes place. Students demonstrate learning over long periods of time in many ways — not in one sitting, coloring in bubbles.

      Some of my students score “advanced” on the Ohio Achievement Assessment. Many are no more advanced than students who score “proficient.” Some students test well, while others freeze, panic or get distracted during a 150-minute assessment that they may see as meaningless. I’ve known many excellent students who fail our high stakes test, only to confess the next school year that they simply didn’t try. “I don’t see the point,” a student once told me.

      While I don’t know your child’s teachers, I can guarantee you that good ones can tell you how much your child has or has not learned without ever putting a multiple-choice or short-answer test in front of him/her. What’s needed is an entire school year filled with multi-faceted projects that are built throughout the year and constant two-way narrative feedback between the student and the teacher, which allows many opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

      If you want to learn more, I suggest you read my blog, at http://www.resultsonlylearning.com and pass the methods along to your child’s teachers. Although results-only learning also helps students pass most tests, remember that test results are meaningless.

      Good luck.


      • While I don’t know your child’s teachers, I can guarantee you that good ones can tell you how much your child has or has not learned without ever putting a multiple-choice or short-answer test in front of him/her. What’s needed is an entire school year filled with multi-faceted projects that are built throughout the year and constant two-way narrative feedback between the student and the teacher, which allows many opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

        How do you find this teacher? How do schools find this teacher? Over the last 5 years we have had 2 years that I would describe as a teacher like this.


      • Sadly, there aren’t enough of them. The system creates traditional teachers, who teach to the test, use homework, worksheets and multiple-choice tests.

        It does begin with people like you, those willing to tell teachers that they want something different.


    • I have been teaching for 16 years, 15 of those in neighboring Prince George’s County. In Maryland we had through this year a high school assesssment required as a condition of graduation in the course which I teach, government. Let me offer my perspective.

      1. The test regularly has questions with no technically correct answer – for example, wanting students to answer that Brown v Board overturned Plessy v Ferguson. It also has questions that as phrased have more than one correct answer. The distribution of questions is unbalanced – one year almost 25% of the questions were on economics when the guidelines said that economics were supposed to be like 10-15% of the tested contentg.

      2. A few years ago they did away with any constructed responses. If you were worried about students passing the test, you would therefore not spend time on student writing. After all, it wasn’t being tested.

      3. I had students who failed all four quarters with me who could pass the test. That’s because simply using process of elimination and guessing, especially with no correction on the raw score for guessing, enabled students to get a score higher than their underlying knowledge.

      4. Multiple choice items do not provide a good mechanism for student learning. There is no partial credit for a second best answer, nor is a student providing a rationale for the answer provided, which therefore gives little guidance to the teacher of how to help the student correct the incorrect thinking that led to the wrong answer.

      Test should be providing feedback to both teacher and student about what has been learned and what needs to be reinstructed. Even doing benchmarks on our high stakes tests really does not provide that, rather it moves classes in the direction of drill in order to get students through the tests that count.


  23. Yes, John, I know you are pleased with high performing inner city public schools.

    But Ravitch is quite disdainful and dismissive of many high performing inner city public schools. It seems like the following Ravitch quote that is found above is the kind of (to me) over-statement that she often makes. ““We have become so obsessed with targets and data that we have lost any sense of what education is or should be.”

    Who is “we”? Is it President Obama? Arne Duncan? John Merrow? Bill Gates? Howard Fuller? Debra Meier? The American Public?


  24. “With all due respect, there is no kind of test, whether you administered it or your school did, that is accurate at measuring achievement,” Mr. Barnes tells us.


    Having been at this 41 years, I’ve seen a variety of assessments (and put together a booklet about them) that shows how to measure, fluency in speaking, writing, and other applied skills. These can not be done well by a multiple choice, fill in the blank test, but there are other forms of testing and assessment. “There are no kinds of test that is accurate at measuring achievement?”



    • Joe, perhaps you are confusing assessment and testing. They are not the same. Tests, which typically consist of multiple-choice, short answer or essay questions, are universally biased, as they are designed by someone expecting a particular response. Tests ignore student choice in learning and do not allow creativity or critical thinking to be evaluated. In other words, tests are designed — poorly in most cases — to elicit a this-or-that-is-right response.

      Assessment involves evaluation of learning outcomes over time and how they are applied to real-world situations. The best assessment is always formative, involving immediate narrative feedback between teacher and student. Proper formative assessment gives students a chance to change or improve activities and projects to demonstrate mastery, something tests never do.

      Testing takes place one moment in time and is, sadly, the be-all-end-all of what a student learned, in most teachers’ minds.

      What I would ask you to consider this. You are given the choice to evaluate the writing and speaking of a student. You can evaluate the student over the course of an entire school year, asking her to apply these skills to a wide variety of activities and allowing her to make changes after self-evaluation and your suggestions, or you can give her one unit-ending test. Which method would give you a better chance to evaluate learning and to help your student grow?


  25. absolutely right the best way to assess learning and progress is by a variety of assessments. This is especially true in langauge learning as one cannot ignore oral development nor aural comprehension nor reading comprehension nor grammar nor writing.

    I my opinion MC tests (bubble tests) are a necesssity if you are testing thousands or hundredds of thousands or millions of students. But they are not a necessity in the classroom and I feel bubble tests are academic junk food. They require too little effort by the students and by the teachers. By correcting my student’s sentences, paragraphs and essays I get to know them as individuals and know their strengths and weaknesses. The most authentic tests are never entirely MC (AP tests for example are no more than 50% MC).


  26. I was once employed at a school in Baltimore City where certain teachers were openly (within school walls) engaged in blatant cheating on the MSA. During test-prep season, one teacher actually offered advice to the younger teachers (in front of the complacent principal) to close their classroom doors during test administration and play loose with time limits. But, the cheating didn’t stop there. Though I never witnessed anything myself (I did not spend time in these classrooms during testing), it was widely known that certain teachers would eyeball scoring sheets after test administration and have students go back and change certain answers. Sometimes written prompts were provided for the dreaded “brief constructed response” sections.

    I was appalled. I was in graduate school at the time taking a course in ethics and my conscience raged furiously over these months. What kept me mum for so long was that I was terrified to say a thing lest I wanted to get my knee-caps bashed in. Or worse! The stakes were high: the school had won a blue-ribbon, the principal was very well-regarded, and many of the teachers involved (though, not all) were nearing retirement age. I didn’t trust anyone in the Baltimore City Public School System to protect me as a whistle-blower when my principal and colleagues were entrenched. My identity would not have been protected from those who’d wish ill-will toward me!

    Eventually, I confided in an education blogger about my situation. This stranger over the internet had ties to the state department of education and was willing to maintain my anonymity while tipping off the state superintendent. It wasn’t long before things became quite uncomfortable as paranoia and resentment permeated the halls of the school. The principal announced obliquely during one faculty meeting, “There are evil people among us!” She then glanced at the group of teachers hawk-eyed as if trying to catch the culprit.

    I left at the end of that year. The state ineffectually came in to monitor some (but not all) classrooms during testing. The previously unabashedly cheating teachers were carefully spared monitoring by the principal. Incidentally, their classrooms posted impressive gains and the school was able to — just, barely — make AYP another year in a row.

    What happened to this school after I left? It went through a period of turmoil. The principal, well-loved and admired by the surrounding community, passed away shortly after. To her credit, she was one of the few constants in the decimated neighborhood where the school stood. She was an important figure to the community and the school was renamed in her honor.

    It should also be noted that this school was not one of the schools plagued by cheating scandals under Andres Alonso who was instated the year after I left.

    My experience has made me cynical of how high-stakes testing is carried out in our schools and while I believe cheating is far too common, I fear it will almost always go unreported. There is no system in place, that I know of, to protect whistle-blowers. I was emboldened by a decision to move out of state and lucky to find a way to keep my identity a secret. Obviously, not everyone can flea the dreadful consequences like I was able to do. But there should uniformly be a process to report irregularities that effectively protects the identity of whistle-blowers.


    • Amen. We would like to talk with those who’ve seen and felt the pressures but understand why they are reluctant to go public


  27. Since education has become a political process rather than an educational process the system has become political. As a political system, as in politics, ethics no longer apply. Winning is the only motivation.
    Politicians care not one whit about ethics. It’s about winning. They, in turn, have made public education a political enterprise where the outcome is only about winning – no matter how. What do you expect of educators? They are people just like everyone else. When the system says you have to cheat to keep you job, what do you think happens?
    Get rid of the prohibitively expensive testing that carries with it life or death for educators and you will not have to worry about cheating.


  28. John,

    I share your anger at the systemic cheating now reaching pandemic stages under NCLB pressures. I don’t think jailing teachers is the answer unless you want to start at the top of the system and work your way down. I’m sure you don’t. But I still have one question. Do you still support the publication in local newspapers, like the L.A. Times, of teacher’s names next to their student’s test scores? If so, don’t you think that such shaming and rewarding based on scores will drive even more cheating? I sincerely hope that you have rethought your position on this.


  29. Oh and talk about axe grinding, Joe’s petty poke at Diane’s perfectly accurate statement about our nation’s current obsession with testing makes me think he has his own axe to grind. He knows full well that Diane isn’t opposed to classroom teachers assessing their student’s work.


  30. John, you said it best when you noted that “Kids were numbers, nothing more, nothing less.” While you say that in the context of the way the cheaters treated them, you make a much bigger point. Test scores by definition (quality test or not, accurate or not) make our students nothing more than numbers. Given their individual student numbers, they are now numbers described by numbers.

    This system dehumanizes our students, teachers, and schools. It is easy to talk about failing students, parents, teachers, and schools, once they are dehumanized–you can ignore the personal story and pretend that the failure (or success) is real. You can invent reasons for success and failure that are independent of context.

    Our challenge as educators and education leaders is to re-humanize our schools and respect the context in which we are teaching and learning. It is very hard to do this when the policy environment we work in reduces the life story of a child and a school to a number, nothing more, nothing less.


  31. Incidentally, there’s probably plenty of teacher cheating at schools for rich kids and their families–who think they have also a huge stake in getting high scores. Read real estate ads–to remind ourselves of what the ad writers assume we mean by a good education. In part it’s a proxy for the demographics of the schools, but it’s also a statement that supports Ravitch’s concern about what has become our definition of being a well educated person. Every time the word “achievement” is used as a synonym for high test scores I wince. But it’s so common now that even the best intended have fallen into the trap. It’s an obstacle course–getting to the end of it becomes the purpose. A recent study noted that a BA is important not because of WHAT it says you have learned, but as a sorting device for employers. That’s sad!)

    A former president of Harvard once disclosed to me that he didn’t make it into Officer’s Candidate school in the Army because his test scores weren’t high enough. count myself lucky–sort of–that one of my 3 children had the same problem with standardized tests.

    But back to cheating. If we put teaches i jail for 10 years for cheating, while we make deals with bankers, investment houses, and on and on who cheat, mislead what are we saying? Virtually no day goes by without a scandal i the business section of the newspapers I read–few lead to prison or even any long term loss of face. Many see it as just part of their responsibility to their stockholders–to up their bottom line “scores”.

    We can come down hard on the most vulnerable cheaters (as we have throughout history) or we can start at the top. I used to remind my colleagues that it was wrong–morally–to leave their purses easily accessible to kids – especially those most in need. There’s a point at which making cheating too easy amounts to entrapment. But we all know that the more severe the penalties are for low scores and the more juicy the rewards are for high scores, the more likely we are to see more and more cheating scandals. (Ditto for eye tests for drivers–imagine the amount of cheating that occurs if and when people’s future depends on passing the test. And on and on. Why ever do we nt have an honor system for most of the goodies of society–except for newspapers–because we know that too many will be tempted.)

    So, I’m for being tough on sinners, but I’m even more concerned at systems that we know are almost certain to encourage it. We have plenty of good research that reminds us that when we rest too much weight on any indicator, we corrupt it’s value. hat goes for GDP, the DOW, etc etc. And it’s one reason we made graduation requirements at Coalition of Essential Schools rest on “old-fashioned” evidence of “can you do it”–“show me” evidence. At CPE and Mission Hill students are required to defend a body of their work in each discipline and field of study before an “audience” of adult experts–and insisted that younger peers sit in as a way to learn what we meant by high standards. It sent a message–and it was cheat-proof.



    • Thanks for the sanity and common sense of your post. I agree. Tests often serve as a good guide of performance overall, but are not of any particular student’s actual skills.


    • Bravo for Debbie’s ‘Old fashioned’ approaches to evaluating and assessing work. The goal should be to help students master material, not to flunk them or play ‘gotcha’ with their teachers


  32. Hello, Mr. Merrow –

    I’m glad to see you writing on the subject of school cheating. As you know from your own experience, Michelle Rhee lied about student test scores while she was chancellor in DC. She, or someone on her staff, lied to you about Shaw Middle School’s scores in the summer of 2009, before they were publicly posted. She told you the scores stayed about the same, when actually they declined.

    You had the integrity to immediately correct your mistake in the PBS transcript (but the misinformation had already aired across the country on the News Hour).

    She continued to lie about Shaw’s scores to the Washington Post, but that finally stopped after I badgered them about it.

    I sincerely hope that the cheating scandal in Atlanta will have the positive effect of opening the eyes of the media, so journalists will thoroughly investigate information received from school officials and then report the facts.


  33. If I remember correctly, the “No- Child-Left-Behind” data out of Texas was fraudulent, and as investigations began years after, memories faded; the investigations went away. The Educational industrial Complex remembers that they can get far when cheating, and this is the result went we trust for-profits, charters, lawyers as Chancellors, publishers, and politicians with education.


  34. Thank you Deborah Meir for speaking to the heart of the matter.

    Just yesterday (on invitation from Learning Matters) I suggested starting discussions on how to bailout the children and families in the Atlanta school system as was done for corporate giants on “Wall Street”. And asked what about promoting success and giave a few examples. The Coalition of Essential Schools is one that I did not think of yesterday.

    As an example of one of the multiple points in Deborah’s commentary, we see too many very capable entering freshmen in remedial education. As Ms. Meir emphasized, “old fashioned” perfomance is proof of what one can do. A test score is only a single measure and should be treated as such in a process of assessment. I learned that from Thorndike and Hagen in graduate school years ago, and it’s still a sound principle in educational assessment.

    Nona Smith


  35. What do you think will happen in New York City if the Department of Education and Mayor get their way and publish the names and results of every teacher in the system in the newspaper? It will breed corruption because no one wants to be embarassed. Principals get bonuses that are pensionable based on student performance, you don’t think they have erasers in their hands?

    The NYC DOE is an incredibly sad system, therefore, blame the teachers and the union for everything!


  36. “We have become so obsessed with targets and data that we have lost any sense of what education is or should be.” so says Diane Ravitch. I’ll keep asking…who is we? Is it Mike Klonsky? Deborah Meier? John Merrow? People who respond to John Merrow’s comments?

    There are many people with varying perspectives on what education is and should be. I think Ravitch’s assertion is unclear and questionable – like many of her assertions. Merrow seems to admire her. I don’t.

    Yes, I know there are various forms of assessments. As noted, I helped create a k-12 public option in St. Paul in 1971 that combined various forms of assessments, including public presentations that Ted Sizer liked and used to help create the kind of graduation process he suggested in Horace’s Compromise. Sizer favored a variety of assessments and so do I.

    There should be consequences for cheaters, starting with those in charge – including bankers, corporate executives, people who drive while intoxicated, along with school supts and building principals who encourage cheating on tests.


  37. Deborah Meier is that proverbial breath of clean air precisely because she suggests alternatives, as did Nona Smith.
    It’s not sufficient to be against what’s going on. We need valid and reliable assessments of what students are mastering–that’s a political reality and desirable in other ways as well.
    I have some thoughts on this that I will post next week, probably cribbing from some of what’s being written here, of course.


  38. Although Randy Pausch taught at the college level, I think there is some very valuable reading in pages 112-116 of “The Last lecture”. Students need to learn how to judge their own work, and teachers can, and should provide extremely valuable guidance in that regard.

    Unfortunately, when the assessment of student learning is undermined by dishonest behavior, everything goes haywire. When teachers award grades that are inflated by practices such as allowing students to submit corrections to exam problems a day or two later and earn half the points they missed, a score of 50% can become a 75%, score of 80% can become a 90%,etc. – and there is no way to know the work submitted is even the student’s own. When happy students and high grades are taken as equivalent to excellence in teaching, adherence to the honest assessment of student learning can cost a teacher his or her career. The price the students pay is even higher. Why should they modify what they are doing, when they are told they are doing so well?

    We need to do a much better job of assessing teaching excellence than is now the case. If not, our nation will continue to lead the world in nothing but student self-esteem that is built on a foundation of miniscule accomplishment. The similarities to the wrong doing on Wall Street that led to the recession are clear.


  39. 1. I’ve been teaching for 23 years. I love teaching. It is exactly what I was supposed to do. However, in the last 3 years, I’ve come to feel that I am lurching from test to test as we implement common assessments, the results of which are published, with names attached, and distributed to the staff. Low scores result in retaliation of one kind or another. Inter-collegial discussions and sharing that once buoyed us psychologically and improved our teaching practices have devolved into internecine suspicions and resentments. I have not given up on the students, but it’s difficult to maintain the positive attitudes I once had.

    2. There’s been a ceaseless drumbeat of blame placed on teachers over the last 3 years or so. Students are beginning to tell us to our faces that they’re not learning because we’re bad teachers. These are the same students who miss school regularly, spend more time talking to friends than participating in the classroom, lose every paper you give them, and generally have no internal commitment to learning – but they know that the problem is the teachers. What did we expect? They’re not dumb. However, it’s a pretty untenable situation for the teachers.

    3. We pretty much know that if you put humans in a situation in which they feel their survival is threatened, especially by forces they see as unfair and inexorable, they will do what is necessary to maintain stasis: teachers are no different. We’ve been put in a position in which we have no control over our curriculum, over student placement, over student advancement, over student retention, over discipline, etc.; not allowed to exercise our professional judgement or treated as a person with professional expertise; and then we’re threatened with financial and professional disaster if we somehow don’t make things work on a specific test. Meanwhile, resources are cut and class sizes increased. And you’re SURPRISED that cheating has happened? I think we should be surprised that so many teachers, despite everything, so many, many teachers continue to fight to do what’s best for the kids every day.

    4. As for younger teachers – neither I nor any other teacher I know recommends to young people they go into the profession at this point. Why should they? They will get blamed for all the failings of parents and society while having almost no influence over their working conditions or manner of performance. We’re essentially regarded as factory workers at this point, and the kids, poor things, might as well be widgets. (This is the true fallacy of the “business” model of education: kids are NOT things to be manufactured nor raw materials to be turned into finished products.)

    5. It is argued by John and Arne Duncan that this will be fixed if we have the best and the brightest going into teaching. For God’s sake (or maybe only those who do it for God’s sake) WHY would anyone who is best and brightest go into teaching to be excoriated, manipulated, treated without respect by any of the stakeholders; paid little for the level of education we attain and the commitment we have to our jobs, the responsibility we hold; work in situations that are physically unhealthy and dangerous at a number of levels; and in which we will be blamed for almost everything even though we have no ability to change the system for the better? It would be insane! Only those who are motivated by missionary zeal (not enough of them) or who fall into the profession by default (not necessarily the best and brightest) will go into the profession or stay there if they do.

    I realize some of these factors don’t seem to bear directly on the discussion, but the cheating is coming out of (at least at the classroom level, I believe) the intolerable pressures under which teachers in America now labor.


    • Wait a minute! Is the John you refer to ME? I haven’t said that the solution is recruiting the best and brightest. Please read my book, The Influence of Teachers…..


  40. Very sorry Robin finds the situation so difficult, as do some other teachers. I find Robin’s view among some teachers. Unquestionably you represent some teachers.

    Other find the teaching, including the encouragement to promote excellence as measured in various ways, to be exactly what drew them into teaching.

    I’m not sure how to bridge the two views, other than to bring folks together with educators from inner city schools open to all that are succeeding. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.


  41. Anyone have any experience with “A Culture of Quality,” a book published by the Annenberg Institute, or “Expeditionary Learning” schools – a group of most district public schools that use a variety of projects and other strategies to help students learn? Here are some brief passages from Ron Berger’s preface in “A Culture of Quality.” Reactions welcome.

    The mission of public education – to prepare students to be informed, capable, just, and com- passionate citizens in our democracy – remains the same. Engaging our youth to take pride in doing their best work and treating others with respect is no easier today than it ever was. We still underestimate the capacity of our students and teachers and focus on “fixing” indi- viduals rather than building communities that bring out the best in everyone. We use narrow and shallow metrics of success for students, teachers, and schools and spend little time considering the features of comprehensive school cultures in effective schools that shepherd stu- dents to success.
    I no longer work at my town’s elementary school, which is in great shape and is still a place of joy and success in learning. I support cultures of quality in schools across the country at Expeditionary Learning (EL), a nonprofit school improvement organization whose mission parallels this book’s vision: creating schoolwide communities that engage and motivate students and teachers to support each other and hold each other accountable for their best.

    EL works with more than 160 schools nationally – mostly in urban, low-income communities – with real success. The EL model embraces the broader, deeper notion this book describes of student achievement – not only doing well on tests, but also thinking critically and creatively, doing work of excellence and beauty, and developing character. These EL urban schools suc- ceed, but not because of a single powerful feature. They have high expectations, strong instruction, and a curriculum rich with real- world projects and authentic purpose; their students contribute to their communities through academic research and civic action. Most importantly, they work to embed those features in a schoolwide culture of achievement in which every student is known, supported, and engaged, and where students take ownership of their own learning and are leaders of positive character. There is no easy answer to school quality: these schools and students sweat over their successes and push each other through challenges. They make their learning public, so they can reflect on it individually and collectively and con- tinually improve. Above all, students and teachers are compelled by the power of the whole school culture to accomplish more than they thought possible.

    These days I carry around a suitcase of inspirational student work, mostly by students from low-income and urban communities. I also bring charts to show that these students significantly outper- form their peers on state tests. But here’s the best evidence I can share: last June, I attended the first graduation at an urban public high school EL helped found in Springfield, Massachusetts. In a city where almost half the students don’t graduate, every member of this founding freshman class graduated from high school and was accept- ed to college. Sitting with their families – witnessing their tears, their shouts, their pride – was a stirring reminder for me of what a culture of quality can mean.


    • Joe, we hope to do some reporting about Expeditionary Learning next school year. Came close last year but budget stuff got in the way


  42. i retired in 1994 after 27 yrs of teaching arithmetic in a small village in sw kansas. The two standardrized tests that were given at the beginning and end of the school term were used for parent-teacher evaluations. I believed that the students and I did the best we could and never thought of altering test scores or helping them on individual problems. It is an honor to help young people in school and to cheat them to keep your job is a terrible legacy for you.


  43. This cheating scandal was addressed in an article as part of series of articles focused around teacher incentives published in the Washington Post. The author of the piece titled Teacher Cheating, Student Testing and the Great Education Tradeoff, suggested that the large scale of cheating is a response to the notion that the education system was far worse off than America initially expected. Steve believes that the principals teachers knew this, but had no idea how to turn around their schools. This is an interesting view to why so many school systems have been cheating on the standardized tests. I also think that the education goals set by Bush in 2001 were a far reach, and an overestimation of the condition of America’s education system. This has caused schools everywhere to rush to meet the 2014 goals… pushing some to cheat.



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