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Serious Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal Generates Predictable Overreaction

The big, hard-to-ignore education news of the week comes from Atlanta, Georgia, in the sunny South. The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrick Jonsson reports:

Award-winning gains by Atlanta students were based on widespread cheating by 178 named teachers and principals, said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday. His office released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that names 178 teachers and principals – 82 of whom confessed – in what’s likely the biggest cheating scandal in US history.

This appears to be the largest of dozens of major cheating scandals, unearthed across the country. The allegations point an ongoing problem for US education, which has developed an ever-increasing dependence on standardized tests.

Let me tell you: If I got caught cheating, I couldn’t even imagine the consequences my parents would bring down on me. No trips to the beach all summer? No dessert for a month? Grounded from playing with Legos AND video games? (Oh, it’s too hard to even think about…) Have my blogging privileges revoked? Some of you would like that, I’m sure. But just imagine the devastation for a little kid like me.

Anyway, a cheating scandal of Atlanta’s magnitude, combined with other smaller instances around the country, sets off the alarm bells. For some, it means responses like this one from a certain well-known figure with an agenda of undermining test-based accountability for schools:

Maybe if I were clever enough I could have responded on Twitter:

Response to Atlanta scandal totally predictable. High-stakes cheating incentivizes overreactions from test-based accountability foes.

When certain students conspire to steal test scores from a teacher, or traffic in plagiarism, do we end the practice of graded tests and reports? When some of the old black-and-white TV quiz shows were caught rigging outcomes, did we ban Jeopardy! and The Price is Right from giving out prize money? What happened in Atlanta is serious and cannot be treated lightly, but we must not forget that the perpetrating educators made decisions to cheat. For all its flaws, No Child Left Behind didn’t make them do it.

One expert quoted in the Christian Science Monitor story made a salient point:

“I think the broadest issue in the [Atlanta scandal] raises is why many school districts and states continue to have high-stakes testing without rigorous auditing or security procedures,” says Brian Jacob, director of the Center on Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan.

Time to take a deep breath and handle the situations — both the cheating scandal in Atlanta and the lack of reasonable test security and auditing procedures in various districts and states — with some grown-up responsibility. Hence, I hand it over to Peter Meyer writing at the Flypaper blog:

We need to know that our teachers are teaching and that children are learning. We need tests. And we need accountability. The next move in Atlanta is crucial to restoring credibility to a discredited school system. But what will that move be?

You also need to read Matthew Tabor’s initial reaction, complete with extra intriguing details and some witty retorts.