by David Safier
Jean Olson didn't have her Sunnyside School District contract renewed after she reported that first and second grade teachers had helped their students cheat during a standardized test.
The good, but insufficient, news is that the Board settled with her over her firing. But too many questions are still unanswered. The most important is, did the teachers actually cheat on the benchmark test?
I don't know the situation, and I don't know Jean Olson. If she made up her allegations, that's shameful, but nothing in the Star article indicates that. If her allegations were based on evidence, which looks likely, the fact that the schools involved and the District didn't investigate them is scandalous.
Here's what Olson cites as reasons for her allegations:
Olson, who oversaw testing at the school, said she saw test papers and heard student comments that indicated teachers were telling students to change wrong answers on tests. She also noticed suspiciously high levels of improvement in some classes from one nine-week period to the next.
Those are both significant indicators something happened. The fact that some classes had big jumps in test scores over a period of nine weeks is very damning evidence. It can be checked easily by comparing student scores from test to test. If the likelihood of the increase is outside of statistical probability, a more thorough investigation should be conducted.
Which leads to two questions. First, why did Sunnyside decide not to renew Olson's contract rather than investigate the possible cheating episodes? Second, is Sunnyside currently conducting an investigation into the alleged cheating?
Cheating on standardized tests in one form or another, ranging from undetectable to blatant, is rampant across the country. It's a symptom of the live-by-the-test, die-by-the-test culture that has developed since the late 1990s. It's one of many reasons to question the value and validity of high stakes tests, which may be the reason schools, school districts and state departments of education are trying to ignore the problem. But at some point, if cheating reaches undeniable, epidemic proportions, the damage will be far worse than if the issue is dealt with today.