We’ve Lost Our Way

I want to pull my hair out. I want to scream and stomp my feet. I want people to stop asking me what I think about “those terrible cheating teachers” and do I think that’s “typical behavior?”

I mean, a girl can only take so much before a girl punches the next person who asks her in the throat.

I used to be a waitress. Back in my early 20s, cocktail waitressing brought in some serious cha-ching for a budding shoe obsession. If you’ve ever worked in a bar, you know that there is this weird little subculture of bar folk. (Ever read Waiter Rant?) At the time, I was working on my master’s degree and, therefore, well aware of life outside of this particular bar. Yet, before long, filling the ketchups became the bain of my existence, the atypical lunch rush was worth talking about for days and Oh. My. God. Did you hear about how the brunch staff totally shorted the bus boys when it came time to tip people out?! What bar tender worked my shifts, and who made more tips than whom quickly became the center of my universe. More tips meant I was good at my job. More tips meant that I had a certain level of value. More tables meant more tips. Over seating my own section to get more table to get more tips no longer bothered me and the new girl can just suck it. Sneaking in a gratuity charge and not mentioning it to the table in the hopes that they would end up double tipping? No biggie. Who cares? I ended up with more tips, didn’t I?

Am I not drawing a clear enough parallel? When you narrow the definition of success and then incentivize people and/or scare the shit out of people by threats of mass firings and nasty labels all of which are connected to this narrow little definition people will do jacked up things. Friends, I lost track of the bigger picture when I was slinging drinks…ya think it could happen to people who are doing their best to educate children in some crazy constricting circumstances?

In a nutshell – stop blaming the teachers! Should the teachers of Atlanta and Lord knows where else have erased children’s answers? No. Should we tolerate that sort of behavior? No. But taking a very surface-y stance to this problem is NOT AN OPTION. If you think those teachers were doing their students a disservice by changing their answers, than imagine the disservice that may be done to the education system if the buck stops there.

From the Huffington Post – “The Atlanta report’s conclusion that cheating resulted from a culture of fear, one spurred by rising test-score targets, fuels the argument that policies determined by test scores provide perverse incentives that are not in the best interests of students.”

Can you imagine the conditions these poor teachers were working under? Can you imagine what it must have been like to drive people to do something like this?

Also from the Huffington Post – “‘To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these jarring incidents, but the existence of cheating says nothing about the merits of testing,’ Duncan wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post.”

It’s says nothing about the merits of testing because THERE ARE NO MERITS TO TEST THAT ARE THIS HIGH STAKES.

Can I throw a “dumb ass” on the end of that last statement or is that too much?

ENOUGH WITH THE TESTING! The thought that these situations have come to light and there are still people who are waving around those freaking ScanTron sheets shouting about the integrity of their precious data makes me want to poke myself in the eye, quit education and go get a job naming nail polish colors.

What about the integrity of education? What about the integrity of the work of teachers? It’s amazing to me that politicians can set standards, impose insane amounts of testing in the name of accountability, tell us how to do our jobs and then when it all falls apart, still claim that their way was the right way and take no responsibility.

Is ignorance really that blissful?

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  • I still believe that the teachers and administrators who cheated on the tests in Atlanta were wrong. They behaved unethically. On the other hand I agree that we can't place all the blame on them. It's clear that the Atlanta Public Schools administration, perhaps like administrations all over the country, put inappropriate pressure on the teachers and administrators. They were basically told if you don't get the scores up, by any means necessary, you'll be fired. They were damned if they did…and damned if they didn't.

    Without excusing the unethical behavior, there are three good letters to the editor about the cheating scandal at this site:


    One of them ends with…

    "In any organization in which members are pressed to reach goals that cannot be attained through legitimate means, cheating and other forms of misconduct are likely to occur. That’s the real threat of high-stakes testing."

    The goals of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are unattainable.

    August 9, 2011 at 1:21 am
  • Great post and so true. It's kind of like with little kids who do something wrong, if we only look at what they did wrong and not why they did it, we'll never be able to fix it.

    August 9, 2011 at 1:21 am
  • Amen! We administer standardized tests in Kindergarten!!! After teaching them how to write their name we are teaching them to fill in bubbles. Our district's yearly evaluations beginning this upcoming year are based 50% on student test scores. It doesn't matter how engaged your students are or how creative you are in your lessons-test scores have more value.

    Is cheating wrong-absolutely. Would I ever cheat-absolutely not. However, I do empathize with the pressure those teachers were under and can understand why they did it. High-stakes testing indeed.

    August 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm
  • I live in the Atlanta area and teach third grade (not in Atlanta Public Schools). The whole APS scandal is horrible on many levels. I can't imagine how they go away with things for so long in such big ways. Bringing the answer keys to their houses for bubbling parties? Really? If I forget to bring back a door sign back to the testing room, I get scolded. But with high stakes testing, AYP, and possibly Paid for Performance (don't get me started on that one)…there is a lot of pressure put on teachers and administrators. I'm proud to be a teacher in metro Atlanta. There are some really good things happening but they never get mentioned on the news. It's sad I need to add a disclaimer when traveling or talking to friends that I don't teach in APS. I can only hope that the board of education makes changes quickly so that teaching and learning can be the focus instead of scantrons and erasers.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm
  • I might have sent that twice, post which ever one you want and not this one. I can't post on your blog without compromizing my secret identity on my teacher blog…..

    August 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm
  • I plan on documenting every minute I spend on assessments this year, because, needed or not, every minute assessing (and in kindergarten that is often one-on-one)is a minute not instructing. I want to know how many DAYS we lose.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm

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