More than just Cheating

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last Sunday the results of its extensive investigation into standardized testing results across the country, and its discoveries were appalling.  The links under “Related” in the left margin tell the tale (read them all; the series is illuminating).  I’ll just offer a few highlights.  It’s important to note that the AJC makes no bones about their analysis: the statistical results do not prove cheating.  However, the results to demonstrate utterly anomalous test scores and score movements from year to year.

Extreme swings in test scores, the paper reported,

occurred in several major urban school systems, including Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Mobile County, Alabama.

In Houston,

test results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year, the analysis shows.  When children moved to a new grade the next year, their scores plummeted[.]

One particularly egregious example occurred at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis. MO.  The AJC reported that in 2010 42% of fourth-graders passed the state’s math test (an appalling teaching performance in its own right). The following year, just 4% of those same students passed the state’s math test when they took it as fifth-graders.  The AJC added that while the 2011 tests were administered, the school was under intense scrutiny as a result of earlier cheating allegations.

Dr Andres Alonso, Chief Executive Officer of the Baltimore, MD, school district, noted that the AJC’s analysis found very large year-on-year changes that, in general, were score reductions following intensified efforts by his staff to prevent cheating in his Baltimore schools.  That intensified effort was a result of Alonso’s own investigation, triggered by a complaint at a PTA meeting.

Others, though, like Nashville, TN, district officials, responded by challenging the AJC’s methodology.  These officials emphasize both the high turnover of children in and out of their districts and that for many of their children English is not the primary language.  The AJC, though, while addressing Nashville’s concerns, points out that lots of other districts—vis., Chicago, Los Angeles, Amarillo, Texas—have similarly high student turnover, and similarly high numbers of students for whom English is not their primary language, and these districts did not have a similarly high incidence of suspicious test results.

There also are the usual cop-out excuses from those more interested in turning a blind eye to the problem than in doing the hard work of actually solving it.  Standardized test scores, they complain, put undue pressure on the teachers to do their jobs.  It’s true enough that test scores typically inform teacher evaluations and/or bonuses.  Other, more interested, educators correctly point out, however, that “cheating is a moral choice.”  No one stuck guns in these cheaters’ ears’, if cheating is what’s going on, and forced the misbehaving educators to misbehave and shortchange our children and their education.

Indeed, the objections to the analysis outcomes do not serve to deny that any cheating is occurring.  The objections instead center on three items: a) justification of the behavior because the teachers are under so much pressure; b) objection to the analysis’ methodology, as with Nashville above; and c) denial of the results.  Detroit, for instance, insisted that its scores were not “unusual or out of line in any way.”

Overall, the AJC reports, 196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts had tests results whose odds of occurring by chance alone were less than 1 in 1,000.  That’s fully 6% of those largest districts.

Cheating on this scale, if that’s what is behind those suspicious scores, is more than just cheating.  These cheaters are doing more than just defrauding you and I out of our tax money.  These cheaters are doing worse than short-changing our children.  These cheaters are doing worse than abusing our children.  These cheaters are setting a devastating moral example for our children.  These cheaters also are threatening our nation’s security—and threatening the welfare of those children’s children thereby.

How is our nation supposed to compete in the world when our citizens are just adult ignoramuses because teacher and school administrator organizations like this make no effort at all actually to educate our children?  How is our nation supposed to compete in the world—or set an example for it—when tomorrow’s adults are morally destitute?

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