Atlanta Schools and Test Cheating

The schools in Atlanta, Georgia have been under investigation after a state investigator revealed cheating in nearly half of the district’s 100 schools. The school is considering imposing punishments on the teachers and administrators of the schools involved.

W. Edwards Deming—the guru of Japanese manufacturing and the expert in increasing quality while reducing costs—would state that 96% of the blame belongs on the school district, rather than on the teachers. The reason is that the school district is basing its assessment on standardized tests.

Atlanta is doing what other schools across the nation are doing, namely, basing educational progress on standardized achievement tests.  As Nido Quebin, president of High Point University in High Point, North Carolina has so eloquently stated:

If the premise is erroneous,
the question will be erroneous,
the answer will be erroneous,
and the outcome will be erroneous.
Never allow erroneous premises to enter your life or you will be constipated in no time.

Education in this country is constipated, and a significant reason for this is the use of  standardized tests to measure learning and in some cases even teacher effectiveness.

Anyone who is literate in testing and knows how these tests are constructed knows that standardized tests serve a good purpose—but measuring progress is NOT one of them.

The problem is twofold: (1) an erroneous premise is being used (using standardized tests to measure progress), and (2) the approach encourages unprofessional conduct.

The only way to prevent situations such as in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and other school districts across the county is to evaluate learning (and teachers) with instruments that are valid and reliable. Standardized tests (1) exclude items that too many students mark correctly,  (2)  are aimed at spreading out scores, (3) include many items that have nothing to do with what is taught but do include  items that are based on student socio-economic backgrounds, and (4) are rarely aligned to the local curriculum.

If school leaders and administrators expect professional behavior on the part of teachers, they should start with their own use of justifiable, reliable, and valid approaches—not on erroneous premises.