by David Safier
The "What will we tell the children?" headline usually signals another standardized test cheating scandal. This is much worse. The El Paso school district got rid of high school freshmen who were likely to fail the all-important sophomore test -- as much as half the freshman class -- so the schools' scores on the test would rise.
And rise the scores did.
The district's overall rating improved from "academically acceptable" in 2005 to "recognized" in 2010 - the second-highest rating possible.
The result was more federal money flowing to the district and a big bonus for the Superintendent who was behind the scam. The only good news in the story is, the Superintendent has pleaded guilty to fraud and could do jail time. That could scare others out of trying such an obvious ploy to raise test scores.
But less blatant forms of test manipulation has been business as usual in Texas for years. And it's important to remember, our standardized testing mania began in Texas when Bush was governor and was spread like an infectious disease to the rest of the country when he entered the White House and brought Texas' barely competent State Superintendent of Schools, Rod Paige, along with him.
Texas may be the most corrupt state in the country when it comes to the high stakes sophomore standardized test -- possibly because it's Texas, possibly because Texas has been at it the longest. Freshmen who are likely to flunk the sophomore test are often "held back" a year, then bumped up to junior status, skipping their sophomore year entirely. Students are suspended or expelled from school around test time, then reinstated later. Absentee rates rise on test days. All these manipulations are the equivalent of taking the tests with the lowest scores and burning them before they make it into the computer. So far as I remember, no principals or superintendents have lost their jobs over this kind of manipulation.
The dreary regimen of testing discourages some of our best potential teachers from joining the profession and encourages many of our best and brightest young teachers to leave. The make-or-break nature of high stakes testing corrupts teachers and adminstrators who are under pressure to raise test scores by any means necessary. And as cheating and other forms of manipulation boost scores at one school or in one classroom, others who are working hard and playing by the rules are made to look like they aren't getting the job done.
Remind me, what are the benefits of high stakes testing that balance out all its destructive elements?