When policymakers attach bonuses and sanctions to scores, scandal is sure to follow.
By Bob Schaeffer
The behavior of some school administrators and educators in Atlanta was clearly outrageous. There's no excuse for cheating.
Unfortunately, Atlanta's scandal is the "tip of an iceberg" in a national sea of standardized test score manipulation. In just the past four years, cheating on high-stakes exams has been confirmed in 37 states and Washington, D.C., according to a survey posted at fairtest.org.
The epidemic of cheating scandals is one reason to reverse education policies. More compelling is overwhelming evidence that test-and-punish strategies fail to improve our schools.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law had laudable objectives - boosting achievement and narrowing racial gaps. But the U.S. made more progress toward these important goals in the decade before the law than since its passage.
Test score gamesmanship is fallout from the nation's explosion of standardized exam misuse and overuse. When policymakers attach bonuses and sanctions to test scores, some schools feel compelled to generate the numbers they need, by hook or by crook. They also narrow curriculum and drill test content.
The standards of the educational measurement profession warn against using results from a single test to make major decisions. Yet politicians continue to double down on policies that violate expert guidelines. As a result, they end up cheating students, parents and the community out of a high-quality education.
There is one bright sign. Recent reports of cheating have accelerated a reassessment of test-driven education "reform." From Seattle to Providence, parents, students, teachers, administrators and researchers are saying, "Enough is enough!" Test boycotts, opt-out campaigns, protests, petition drives and school board resolutions call for replacement of NCLB and similar state-mandated schemes.
They are making an impact. The Arizona Legislature repealed that state's graduation test requirement. Texas is likely to reduce the number of required exams.
These changes are direct reactions to grassroots constituent concerns. Even more pressure will be required to turn around assessment policy. --------------------------------- Bob Schaeffer is public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). *************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org