by David Safier
More than ever, schools live and die by their standardized test scores. So naturally, there's going to be cheating at some schools to raise the scores. But is this a serious problem? The answer appears to be, yes.
In Philadelphia a lot of cheating was going on in recent years resulting in a significant boost in scores, according to an Education Week article (subscription only). And we're only talking about detectable cheating in the form of erasures of wrong answers which are replaced by right ones. The district has found significant evidence of wrong-to-right erasures at 53 schools. Of course, it's difficult to prove cheating was involved. For that, you need confessions from teachers and administrators. But there's some damn strong circumstantial evidence -- big drops in school test scores when the district tightened test security:
In response to those findings, the District put in place tough new test-security measures last spring. The result was huge drops in scores at nearly all of the 53 schools, according to preliminary 2012 PSSA results obtained by Newsworks and the Notebook.
Philadelphia has a serious cheating problem. A short while back, a huge cheating scandal rocked the Atlanta schools. A USA Today study unearthed indications of problems nationwide, including in Arizona. It's happening all over the country.
And remember, we're not talking about teachers getting the tests early and feeding the kids answers in the days before the exam. We're not talking about teachers coaching students during the tests. That kind of cheating doesn't leave physical traces. We're only talking about the most crude and obvious cheating, where someone takes a stack of completed tests and substitutes correct answers for wrong ones.
One example in the article is the K-8 General Philip Kearny Elementary which has been praised for getting terrific results from its low income students, with over 70% of students achieving proficiency in reading and math. President Bush used the school to applaud the success of No Child Left Behind. But in 2012, with tightened security, the school's scores fell 22 points in both reading and math.
Normal, garden variety teaching to the test means scores are at best a questionable measure of student achievement. But who knows how many schools and districts are being praised because they change student answers and how many other schools and districts feel the same pressure to cheat as athletes who use performance enhancing drugs because so many other athletes do it?
In the past, Arizona ignored signs of excess erasures, including at Carpe Diem charter in Yuma which has been praised for its successes by conservatives nationwide (It's going to get a shout out on a Fox News special soon). Huppenthal swears they're looking more carefully at erasures on this round of tests. But earlier evidence of cheating in Arizona has been studiously ignored. And it's hard to believe Huppenthal, who hopes to see state test scores go up under his administration, will be looking very hard.