Atlanta Schools’ Cheating Scandal: Who is to Blame?

Dear Commons Community,

Last week, the city of Atlanta was rocked when a 65-count indictment was announced by prosecutors alleging that 35 educators were involved in a conspiracy to inflate students’ test scores within the Atlanta public schools.    To be honest, this was not totally unexpected since the investigation has been reported on for the past several years.

Now we are faced with the question:  Who is responsible for this sad state of affairs?   If convicted, those indicted including the former school superintendent, Beverly Hall, share the major blame and should be punished to the full extent of the law.   Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, in a press release yesterday states that some of the blame rests with the test-crazed systems in which many of our public schools are operating and especially in our large urban school districts:

“Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies. Standardized tests have a role in accountability, but today they dominate everything else and too often don’t even correlate to what students need to know to succeed.

No amount of testing will replace what works to improve teaching and learning: giving teachers the resources and tools they need to be great teachers and providing students with a rich and well-rounded curriculum. Covering up kids’ academic deficiencies cheats students out of the targeted help they deserve.

It is outrageous that schools in some states are spending up to 100 days a year doing test-prep or actual testing. We have to re-order our priorities and move our schools from a test-based culture to one that is deeply rooted in instruction and learning, so that our kids can become engaged participants in the knowledge economy and our democracy.

School districts in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere placed enormous pressure on teachers to show improved scores, but the hard truth is that cheating on high-stakes testing doesn’t fix public schools or help kids. And even with this intense pressure, the vast majority of teachers do everything they can to help kids and never succumb to cheating. They know there are no shortcuts to success. Moving the needle requires a balanced approach that focuses on high-quality instruction; a rich curriculum; appropriate and useful assessments; and additional help and other resources like tutoring, after-school activities and social services to enable teachers and students to be successful.”

Amen to Ms. Weingarten!


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