Cheating in Public Schools

Thirty-five Atlanta public school educators and administrators were recently indicted in connection with alleged cheating on standardized tests.

The alleged cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.

According to the indictment, the superintendent placed unreasonable goals on educators and protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and ignored suspicious test score gains throughout the school system.

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district’s elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal of what was once touted as a model for the nation’s school districts after its test scores dramatically improved in some of Atlanta’s toughest schools.

The superintendent was named the “National Superintendent of the Year” in 2009, which noted her “leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.”

When I learned of the news, the following immediately came to my mind:

  1. The superintendents association bases the success of schools primarily on standardized test scores—which are neither valid nor reliable for assessing student accountability or assessment in learning.
  2. The source of the problem is the system. As W. Edwards Deming, the universally renowned guru for quality has frequently noted, the cause for most of the problems is the fault of the system, rather than of the “workers.” The Atlanta school district is a typical example. The system prompts cheating in order for the principals to survive.
  3. In the 1990’s, Houston Superintendent of Schools, Rod Paige, made principals accountable for the dropout rate and for their school’s test scores. When those two criteria did not improve, Paige fired the school administrators. Scores suddenly shot up at schools all over the district. Some schools made incredible progress with both the dropout rate and student achievement scores. President George W. Bush thought he had found “the magic bullet” to reform America’s public schools. He appointed Rod Paige as U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001-2005. However, the improvement turned out to be based on lies and fabrication. Houston had not improved its scores or its dropout rate..
  4. As long as schools base success on rankings and competition, rather than on empowerment and collaboration, cheating will continue to be rampant. The crrent  system promotes it.