Last week, teachers in Georgia were sentenced to jail time for a cheating scandal that broke in 2009. These teachers were convicted of erasing/changing incorrect student answers on standardized tests. The standardized tests were linked to monetary bonuses, and therefore they were charged with conspiracy and racketeering.
Being in the same profession, also subjected to standardized testing and the same No Child Left Behind Act (which is, thankfully, no longer education policy) this has been a story I've been following. I am appalled by their sentencing - anywhere from 1 to 7 years in prison, depending on their level of involvement. In our recent history, we've had ball players physically abuse their spouses ON VIDEO, a famous comedian accused of assault by more than multiple women, mothers who have killed their children, and cops who have shot unarmed citizens and none of them were given jail time. Interestingly enough, around the same time these teachers were conspiring to cheat on standardized testing, much of the financial world was also engaged in cheating and lying and stealing and pretty much single-handedly bringing on the world's economic crisis. Not one of those in charge at the time went to jail.
Putting it all into perspective, it would seem that a more just punishment would be firing, loss of credential, and returning the money "earned" due to test scores. But these cheating teachers earned years in prison. The judge who sentenced them said, "It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town." Oh, please. This happened in Atlanta, Georgia. Cheating teachers are at the bottom of the list of "Sick Things". They are being made an example of.
I was hoping this verdict/sentencing would bring about the debate over standardized testing. While there has been some, most has been the regular vitriol about teachers, which so offends me. Mind you, these teachers also offend me, but their actions stem from a much bigger problem...standardized testing.
NCLB made success at a low income and/or high ELL population schools VERY difficult with its "requirement" of 100% proficiency for all students by 2014. Each year, since its start in 2002, schools were required to make substantial growth from year to year with 100% after 10 years. It is certainly not a bad thing to want 100% of our students to be proficient at their grade level, and every teacher should have high expectations of their students. The reality, however, is that kids are not standardized. They develop at different rates and they learn at different rates. Kids also come to school with different needs. Those who have their basic needs fulfilled at home are often far more successful on standardized tests than those who don't. Those who live in impoverished neighborhoods or come from families who do not speak the language of our school system (often these two go hand-in-hand) more than likely have a much different set of needs when they are at school. Some are looking for routine, some are looking for a hot meal, some are looking for someone to love and care about them - all things that must take place before any learning can. Having spent my entire teaching career at schools that are 80+% low income and ELL, I'm quite familiar with standardized testing and the impoverished student. I love where I teach and have super high expectations for my students, but every year I have no less than 5 who struggle so much academically or behaviorally or mentally or all of the above (last year I had 5 who DIDN'T struggle with something that affected their academics). In all schools, there is more to teaching and assessing learning than a standardized test, but at schools like mine, standardized testing actually inhibits learning. And then to use them as the basis of assessing teacher performance is a little bit like being a Mercedes car dealership and blaming and penalizing the salesman for not being able to sell a car to a homeless man, who just came in to use the bathroom. I'm all for holding teachers accountable and getting people who don't care or are ineffective out of the classrooms. Standardized testing isn't the way to do that though. It causes more harm than good.
There is a tremendous pressure put on districts to do well on these assessments, who then put that pressure on their administrators, who then put it on their educators. That has been no exception in my school district - each school has a yearly visit, right after school started, from the superintendent who "reminds" us on the importance of test scores and then congratulates or humiliates the staff depending on the previous year's scores. Over the first decade of the 2000s teaching changed. We began teaching TO the test. Actual learning was not quite as important as the bottom line. My point being is schools changed, for the worse, after NCLB and it would seem these GA teachers let that get the best of them. It's no excuse for their behavior, but even so, they don't deserve to go to prison.
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