The testing requirements in No Child Left Behind have been a constant source of complaint by many educators over the years. The notion that children were being taught to “test well” rather than filling their heads with knowledge had a lot of support among school districts — especially those from the inner city. The standards demanded by the law meant that bad test scores could eventually lead to losing some federal dollars.
The Atlanta school system found a way around that; they simply took the test scores from inner city kids and corrected some wrong answers. Presto! They created aggregate scores that beat a lot of suburban districts.
I suppose I should mention that many of those educators got big, fat, juicy cash bonuses for doing such a fine job.
On Friday, the state of Georgia indicted 35 teachers and administrators — including the former superintendent Beverly Hall — on charges ranging from racketeering to theft.
New York Times:
Paul L. Howard Jr., the district attorney, said that under Dr. Hall’s leadership, there was “a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat.”
“She is a full participant in that conspiracy,” he said. “Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree it took place.”
For years there had been reports of widespread cheating in Atlanta, but Dr. Hall was feared by teachers and principals, and few dared to speak out. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” the indictment said.
Reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state education officials repeatedly found strong indications of cheating — extraordinary increases in test scores from one year to the next, along with a high number of erasures on answering sheets from wrong to right.
But they were not able to find anyone who would confess to it.
That is until August 2010, when Gov. Sonny Perdue named two special prosecutors — Michael Bowers, a Republican former attorney general, and Robert E. Wilson, a Democratic former district attorney — along with Mr. Hyde to conduct a criminal investigation.
Ms. Parks told Mr. Hyde that the cheating had been going on at least since 2004 and was overseen by the principal, who wore gloves so as not to leave her fingerprints on the answer sheets.
Children who scored 1 on the state test out of a possible 4 became 2s, she said; 2s became 3s.
“The cheating had been going on so long,” Ms. Parks said. “We considered it part of our jobs.”
She said teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets set by the superintendent.
Dr. Hall was known to rule by fear. She gave principals three years to meet their testing goals. Few did; in her decade as superintendent, she replaced 90 percent of the principals.
Teachers and principals whose students had high test scores received tenure and thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. Otherwise, as one teacher explained, it was “low score out the door.”
The cheaters weren’t very clever — and cost at-risk children hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and state aid:
At Parks Middle School, which investigators say was the site of the city’s worst cheating, test scores soared right after the arrival of a new principal, Christopher Waller — who was one of the 35 named in Friday’s indictment.
His first year at Parks, 2005, 86 percent of eighth graders scored proficient in math compared with 24 percent the year before; 78 percent passed the state reading test versus 35 percent the previous year.
The falsified test scores were so high that Parks Middle was no longer classified as a school in need of improvement and, as a result, lost $750,000 in state and federal aid, according to investigators. That money could have been used to give struggling children extra academic support. Stacey Johnson, a Parks teacher, told investigators that she had students in her class who had scored proficient on state tests in previous years but were actually reading on the first-grade level. Cheating masked the deficiencies and skewed the diagnosis.
One wonders if there are school districts where the cheating is more sophisticated and better hidden. And it calls into question NCLB testing protocols that place so much emphasis on standardized tests.
This probably won’t be the last school district to suffer such ignominy.