By Ben Velderman
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The standardized test cheating scandal has spread to California.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the state test scores of 23 California schools have been invalidated due to “adult irregularities” that occurred during testing. The improprieties range from outright cheating to mistakes in administering the tests.
A fifth-grade teacher at an Oakland elementary school, for example, failed to cover up instructional material that hung on the classroom’s bulletin boards and light fixtures. That allowed students to read posters “containing science vocabulary and directions for adding and subtracting decimals,” the Times reports.
In some instances, the cheating was more overt. A handful of teachers in three districts “allegedly read ahead in the test booklet while their students were taking the test” so they could “go over questions or material about a test topic with the students in advance, before they reached that section,” according to the Times.
An elementary teacher in Big Bear City used “facial expressions” to direct students toward the right answer, while teachers in a San Bernardino high school used review materials containing sample questions, 19 of which proved to be exact matches on the state test, the Times reports.
California’s cheating scandals are the latest in a string of shenanigans involving state standardized tests. The alarming trend gained national attention last year when teachers in Atlanta Public Schools were accused of changing students’ test answers.
In El Paso, Texas, a former school superintendent was recently sentenced to three years and six months in prison for orchestrating an elaborate cheating operation that inflated the district’s test results and resulted in hundreds of kids being pushed out of the school system.
What’s going on, anyway?
Critics of standardized testing – and there are many in the education establishment – argue that “high stakes” tests put teachers under enormous pressure to perform well in order to keep their job. A growing number of states are using student learning (as measured by state tests) to evaluate their educators’ performance, which in turn affects teacher tenure. Critics argue that some teachers are so desperate to protect their tenure status that they resort to cheating.
Some critics even argue that the cheating is understandable and excusable.
We believe the problem isn’t with standardized tests, but rather with the type of adults being employed in the nation’s public schools.
True professionals should welcome evaluations and critiques that help them hone their skills. Test scores can help educators see the areas where they’re succeeding with students and the areas they need to improve upon. If some teachers don’t feel up to facing that kind of basic assessment, it’s a safe bet it’s because they don’t have the academic or professional skills that are necessary for leading a classroom.
There’s also the possibility that all this cheating reveals that there are too many adults in the classroom who don’t have the character to work with children. That would suggest that the nation’s teacher colleges are doing a poor job of screening the next generation of teachers, and some type of reform is needed at that level.
Either way, the cheating scandal must not be allowed to delegitimize standardized tests. Instead it should serve as a red flag that the problems facing public education run deep and require even more stringent reforms.