We shouldn’t be shocked that 35 Atlanta educators, the former superintendent among them, were indicted for cheating on students’ tests. My cynical side says they’re just the unlucky ones who got caught. As a former classroom teacher, I understand the pressure on teachers to get kids to pass these high stake tests that determine bonus pay and school budget funding.
Perhaps this latest exposure will lead to a re-examination of the testing epidemic that has spread like a virus throughout the nation’s schools.
April is National Poetry Month. Yet how many schools can teach poem reading and writing when they’re forced to prepare for the tests that begin in May? In New Jersey, April showers bring tests; not flowers. And the state is about to add more testing, increasing the exam hours, which means teachers will need to spend more class time prepping students. They’ll cut into more of the regular curriculum to address test-taking techniques earlier and earlier in the school year.
I remember addressing parents on Back to School Night, when I taught 8th grade Language Arts, and telling them that yes, it would be irresponsible not to prepare students for tests, but that I did so gradually, throughout the year, emphasizing reading and writing, creating life-long learners. After all, taking a test requires skills; many professions require some sort of examinations. But teaching to the test and test preparation has become an addiction: schools feel they can’t get enough.
Hence, the cheating. Administrators feel they need to show improvement to garner federal education funding. Teachers, their salaries now tied to test results, need students to pass. So in places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators, while not quite taking the test for students, erased incorrect answers and filled in the correct ones.
My sister Madeline, an ESOL teacher in Maryland, bemoans how her 3rd– 5th grade students, ranging from the children of gardeners to ambassadors, are forced to take the state tests, no matter their English ability. I remember students moving to my district within a couple days of test week, who were also made to endure the long test hours, often without any preparation.
We teach about the dangers of cheating from early on. Don’t look at another’s paper; don’t copy homework and lab reports. Don’t plagiarize. Do your own work.
These students, enabled to pass by administrators, were the ones cheated. Instead of dealing honestly with their abilities, they were convinced they’d succeeded. Like social promotion, they’re passed along for another teacher or school to address. Or in some cases, they’re the ones who will really be left behind.