No One Likes A Cheater…Although I Think No One Likes The Tests Either

This article was sent to me via email today.  In a nutshell, it discusses an investigation of the Atlanta public schools in which it was discovered there was rampant cheating on standardized tests.  They say at least 178 teachers and principals, most of whom have confessed, were involved in the cheating.  Here’s a quote from the article, “A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence, he said in a prepared statement. “There will be consequences,” Mr. Deal said.”  (Mr. Deal is the governor of Atlanta.)  Consequences like dismissals and maybe criminal charges.  And, if I may be so bold as to make a bit of a prediction here, teacher bashing.  I mean, it’s open season on us teachers lately, no?

Granted, these people should not have been cheating.  Cheating blows.  I hate cheating.  I hated dealing with cheating in my classroom.  All the long discussions about losing gracefully and being a good sport and blah blah blah…which I totally know is beneficial but really I just wanted to say, “Cheating is a waste of time and energy and it always catches up to you, so just go sit over there and stop playing if you’re going to ruin our fun.”  Whether it’s little friends cheating at a math game to win, well, to win nothing, or adults cheating on standardized tests, I think we can all agree it’s just wrong.

But just like I had to squelch my desire to simply stick cheaters off to the side and deal with the larger problem, so do these adults responsible for educating Atlanta’s youth.  We can’t just bash the teachers and the principals.  (Although clearly many are tempted to grab flaming torches and beat us when we’re down.)  We have to look at the larger problem.  What about this culture of fear that has been created for adults working in schools?  What about this obsession with quantitative data and test scores and seemingly nothing else?  What about all the studies that negate the usefulness of this data when it is abused as we so love abusing it today?  What about all that? 

As I sit here typing this blog, I’m almost sick of myself for just engaging in this debate.  I am so sick of test scores.  I am so sick of the blame.  Most of all, I’m so sick of bitching about all of it.  (Okay, I secretly love bitching about many things, but even I have my limits.)  Instead of continuing to talk and talk and talk about test scores and graphs and standardized tests, why don’t we just change the conversation?  Yes, I mean us, we, teachers, THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY HAVE AN IMPACT ON CHILDREN EACH AND EVERY DAY…let’s just change it.  Stop talking about the tests.  Yes, they exist.  Yes, they are being abused.  Yes, they are out of control.  So let’s just move on and talk about something else like how we want our classrooms to be run, what we want our little friends to get out of their time with us, what we feel are the true purposes of school and how we can achieve those.

What do you think?  Easier said than done?  Has the pressure and fear consumed us all? 

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  • You know who really hates the tests? The special ed. teachers. I am so tired of being asked "what are you going to do to close the gap? how are you going to make your sub group AYP"
    UMMMMM….I'm not. There is no possible way that I am going to take a group of kids with below average IQ and/or learning disabilities and make them make 2 or more years worth of growth at the same time "normal" peers are making one year's worth.
    Believe me I am working my butt off. I have the hardest working kids in my room. We don't do crafts, movies or parties….ever. They make progress but that is never enough b/c the test just shows they are below grade level….which might be why they are in special ed….just sayin' 🙂
    It is a broken system.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm
  • On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to talk about something other than the tests. On the other hand, I think if we want to be heard by the public and have our ideas sink in, we MUST keep talking in public arenas. Until the politicians and corporate wonks start listening to us (if they ever do) and paying attention to studies that don't agree with their worldview, we have to keep pointing out the flaws in their ideology.

    I agree, however, that this talk is tiring. I have had to unsubscribe to some blogs because reading so many negative articles saps my energy. I need to regenerate over the summer so I can face the next batch of 150 darlings in August with the enthusiasm they deserve.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm
  • The kids are stressed, the teachers are stressed, the administators are stressed. In our state, as the expectations keep getting raised every year (by 2014, ALL of our students–special ed kiddoes as well–are expected to be proficient), more and more school districts are "failing." If we're teachers and all our students fail, it's not the students' fault; it's the teacher's fault. Perhaps the problem is the test and the impossibly-high standards?

    July 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm
  • @Kim
    "…so many negative articles saps my energy…"

    Try this one…it's called "Reasons for Hope."

    July 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm
  • Mimi, it would be nice if we could quit talking about it, but now, more than ever, the tests are damaging for public education and public school teachers. In state after state, the US DOE plan of judging teachers in part by test scores, is becoming a reality…Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Idaho…and my own state of Indiana, among others.

    WE know that test scores are more a reflection of a child's zip code than her teacher, but the public doesn't. The problems with using tests to evaluate teachers are

    1) that they were not made for that purpose. Standardized tests, if well made, have been standardized to evaluate students. There's been no research that bears out any validity in evaluating teachers.

    2) Even with "value-added" techniques, which, btw, are also unreliable and invalid, teaching low achieving children will put those teachers at risk. Special ed teachers, teachers in high poverty schools, even teachers of gifted and talented students, will have trouble showing improvement…mostly due to conditions outside of their control (G/T teachers because if students score at the top, there's not much room for improvement).

    3) As the cheating scandal in Atlanta (and possibly D.C., and elsewhere) shows, teachers and administrators are worried about how the tests will be used. Their livelihoods depend on it…

    Don't get me wrong…I don't approve of cheating…just as you said, No one likes a cheater. The current educational climate in America, which has been building for the last 10+ years and is the "status quo," however, is just begging teachers, administrators and entire school systems to cheat. The Texas miracle, upon which NCLB is based was nothing more than a cheating scandal.

    It's a no win situation. We have to keep talking about it…

    July 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm
  • We have to keep talking about it, because the public still doesn't get it. Witness your fellow-awesome-bloggeress Organized Chaos:
    "But now when I tell people I'm a teacher I almost watch then recoil in horror. "Not one of them… those creatures trying to hold our kids down?" I feel they want to ask." Except in my experience, no one is asking, and A LOT of people who never had kids, whose kids are grown, etc. have strong opinions about education from what they are getting in the media alone, we are the educated, civil army that can look for the open minds.

    And we need to talk to these people: long enough and hard enough to get some action from them. Because I have seen minds turn when that parent who used test scores to decide what school their kid should go to observe the stress that testing took on their otherwise happy-go-lucky kid every time it came up.

    Failing schools notes our own EdSec doesn't get the consequence of failing for real people, students as much as teachers:

    And I've got one more for ya:
    ‎"So what has reform done for the students at L.A. Academy? Interrupted their instruction. Stressed out their teachers. Caused a mass exodus of faculty. Placed fear in the hearts of the students who cannot bear to lose any more of their teachers…. A wise person once told me that any decision made from a place of fear was bound to fail. Today’s reform policies attempt to motivate workers through threats and fear…"

    But as long as you blog, Mimi, and others like you above blog, and as long as we read and we share on FB and other social media and we educate each other (what I have learned about education beyond my home state from awesome bloggers who delve into details) we can be unified, we can persuade, we can change minds. After all, our students don't come in empty-headed, we're used to the task of changing minds. The best teachers can be the best advocates for the cause, so they have to keep talking.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • Actually, most of the bashing has been aimed at administrators at the school level and up.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • I agree with you, Mimi. Cheating is not right.

    But I think when EIGHTY teachers have admitted cheating, and more probably did too, there's a bigger issue.

    What kind of a culture pushes that many teachers to cheat? It's awful.

    I was also really annoyed by how the article treated this issue as though some teachers just decided it was easier to change test scores than to teach better. I am quite certain that was not the case for most of them.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • In my state we had a pretty good test as a pilot that we gave three times a year that measured a student's growth at whatever level they were at. This is 20th hand knowledge information, but what I heard was that the state was going to go ahead and use that test after the pilot ended, but then was threatened by another test company's lawsuit for failing to accept bids. The state went ahead and made a contract with the accusing company in order to avoid a lawsuit. This new test only assesses one grade level above and below the student's grade level. So, we cannot assess the growth of anyone who is more than a year below (or above) grade level! Now, how can we judge teachers or students on growth when we're making decisions like this!

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • I'm blessed to work in an environment where we don't talk about these high stakes tests as much as in other places. We do talk about them, but we talk about them in terms of students, not scores. "What can we do for E to help him do his best?"

    I teach in a school that is designed for gifted and other creative learners. That doesn't mean that they will always get the best score. My most brilliant kid scored unsatisfactory on his state tests–he simply doesn't TEST well. If you asked him the same types of questions, he could answer them with no problem. If you gave him a problem and allowed him to design something that would solve it, he could do that wonderfully. We are helping our students learn to THINK, not take tests.

    But do we talk about tests? Sure. But do we let them run every aspect of our school day? No. I've worked there…it was very unpleasant. And to give you an idea of how unpleasant it was, of 23 staff members, 18 quit last year. And it's like that throughout the entire school district because of the talk about tests, testing, scores, proficiency, goals, and "accountability."

    Can we stop talking about it? No. But we can talk about it differently. The question is, how can we discuss this issue in a way that is beneficial to our little friends in whom we want to instill a love of learning?

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • What about organizing the parents so that they – the parents – tell their children to refuse to take the state test?

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • I think if we have to talk about tests, we need to do what we do with kids when we can't deal with the root problem in that moment–redirect. OK, if we're going to have to do the testing thing, how can we use that information for the benefit of the kids? Such as, how can we use it to IMPROVE our teaching (as in, what stuff am I not covering well with the whole group and how can I fix that)? How can we use the tests to find out which kids need which kinds of help? Can we use testing data to compare how effective teachers are (along with a bajillion other measures!) and then use that information to help make everyone a rockstar rather than firing them? What, exactly, are we learning here?

    Living in a state that's making the testing thing a big deal is hard on the nerves. I'm trying, desperately, to look at the bright side. I guess it's sad that I don't feel like I have any say in the matter, and maybe that's the biggest problem with the whole thing. My input is not required for something that can make or break my year.

    July 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  • I loved your opinions on the stresses of testing our kids. I'm so sick and tired of basing an entire school year on one test. It's gotten to the point where I have students who won't give their best everyday and make mediocre grades and only perform on test day. It's so frustrating. But, like a lot of teachers out there I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and not make a standardized test the end all and be all of my classroom.

    July 11, 2011 at 11:41 pm
  • I am so glad to find a community of educators having this discussion. It seems like politicians and "talking heads" on news reports have the answers, but they are not there, with us, on the weeks prior to the tests, or the days of the tests. I dont condone cheating, and I think the tests (in Ohio) have come a long way…they did wake up teachers who lost their focus, but the stress on the precentages etc, is too much. Thanks again for this blog..Looks like I have some fun reading to do this afternoon to catch up!

    July 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm
  • I know one of the people involved in this – he was in my cohort group through Walden University. He sent me 3 links to the news stories reported on Atlanta TV. I hope he will be able to have his name cleared, and that his administrator will come back from vacation to answer the questions that will be asked and need to be answered! I just hope my friend has the strength to get through this! And I can't help but wonder – will he stay in education?

    July 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm
  • I really like what several of you said about educating parents and the public in general. In IL our "AYP" is determined by comparing the scores of last years third graders to this years third graders. That makes no sense. The class of 2020 (the most recent group of third grade grads) in our school district this year had an extraordinary amount of special ed students (don't know what was in the water…haha). The scores from their test given in March will be compared to the scores from the class of 2019 who didn't have half as many special ed kids. Wonder if we made gains in our scores?

    When I explain it to people I say that it is the same as putting my husband who is a foot taller than me on the scale this month and next month I will get on the scale to see if I lost any weight. You can't compare apples to oranges to measure growth…..or to determine the effectiveness of any program or person.

    Makes my head hurt.

    July 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

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